Profiling Black Heroes: The Tuskegee Airmen

  • Post category:History

The Rise of New Evil Empires

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The end of the First World War signaled the collapse of old empires, as well as the eventual rise of new ones. The German monarchy was transformed into the Weimar Republic. The Russian Empire soon fell to the Communists and became the Soviet Union. The Kingdom of Italy was overtaken by Benito Mussolini’s Fascists. By the late 1930s, the world stood on the brink of another global conflict. National Socialists under Adolf Hitler had become the dominant power in Germany, overthrowing the Weimar Republic. The Japanese Empire had invaded China. Wherever the Nazis and Japanese Imperialists took over, they inflicted unspeakable horrors on various groups of people.

Air Warfare is Expanded

America entered World War II in December 1941, following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. US forces fought on various fronts through many different types of terrain from the sweltering swamps of Guadalcanal to the bitter cold of the snowy Ardennes Forest. The weapons and machines introduced in the First World War were now greatly improved. Of these, airplanes received some of the most significant development. Fighter pilots in World War II often undertook very high-risk missions. One of these was the Doolittle Raid, conducted by General James Doolittle, which resulted in a successful US attack on Tokyo, Japan. Another prominent group of fighter pilots serving in Europe and North Africa displayed great bravery and heroism in the midst of racism both at home and abroad.

“Spit Fire”

While African-American soldiers often demonstrated some of the greatest fighting on the battlefield, they were also subject to some of the worst treatment on their own home front, and at the hands of their own countrymen and women. It is thought by some that the Nazis developed their Nuremberg Laws using the concepts of those put in place by Jim Crow Democrats. In evaluating the treatment of African-Americans at the hand of our government, the Nazi’s even created a map published in one of their propaganda magazines in 1936 showing the split between “White and Black in America.” In fact, the Nazis thought Democratic Jim Crow laws were too harsh even for them.

The translation for the key is as follows:
No voting rights
All restrictions above with the exception of the right to vote
Mixed marriages prohibited, racial segregation in school
Mixed marriages prohibited
Photo credit: of University of Michigan Library, appearing in James Q. Whitman’s Hitler’s American Model

During World War II, military segregation continued. Many felt African-Americans were incapable of achieving pilot status. In September 1940, the Roosevelt Administration announced they would soon allow Blacks to train as pilots. The following year, US Army began training African-Americans to fly aircraft at the Tuskegee Army Airfield in Tuskegee, Alabama. The Tuskegee Airmen proved to be more than capable pilots during their deployment in Europe and North Africa. Their motto, “Spit Fire,” was fitting. Sometimes referred to as the Red Tails, the Tuskegee Airmen flew in over 1,500 combat missions.

Distinguished Heroes

One of these heroes was General Benjamin O. Davis, Jr. According to the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum, Davis “was a member of the first class of five cadets to earn their wings at Tuskegee.” Davis’s role consisted of escorting bombers over the Mediterranean and in Europe. Following World War II, he served in Korea and Vietnam.

Another member was General Daniel “Chappie” James Jr., who became the first African-American to reach the rank of four-star general. James was an instructor for the Tuskegee Airmen during World War II. Afterwards, he served in combat in Korea and Vietnam. James was later stationed in Libya during Muammar Gaddafi’s coup in 1969. According to the National Aviation Hall of Fame, James was present at Wheelus Air Force Base when Gaddafi and his forces attempted to capture the site.

What happened next was truly amazing. In James’ own words, “One day, Khadafy ran a column of half tracks through my base — right through the housing area at full speed. I shut the barrier down at the gate and met Khadafy a few yards outside it. He had a fancy gun and a holster and kept his hand on it. I had my .45 in my belt. I told him to move his hand away. If he had pulled that gun, he never would have cleared his holster. They never sent any more half tracks.”

A Promotion and Recognition

On February 4, 2020, President Donald Trump promoted retired Colonel Charles McGee to a brigadier general. Trump then invited him to the State of the Union where Trump recognized the General as a member of the Tuskegee Airmen. Present with McGee was his great-grandson, Iain Lanphier. President Trump stated, “After more than 130 combat missions in World War II, he came home to a country still struggling for Civil Rights and went on to serve America in Korea and Vietnam. General McGee, our nation salutes you. Thank you, sir.”

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Today, may the Tuskegee Airmen receive the recognition and appreciation they deserve. We greatly thank them for their sacrifice and commitment.

Garrett Smith
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