image borrowed from bing
“Negro pilots cannot be used in our present Air Corps units,
since this would result in Negro officers serving over white
enlisted men, creating an impossible social situation.”
--General Henry “Hap” Arnold
John Henry Allen died today at 84;
drafted right after high school in 1945,
he was assigned to the 332nd Fighter
Squadron Wing of the Tuskegee Airmen.
Black pilots were prevented from participating
in WWI. After tremendous pressure & lobbying,
in April 1939, Congress designated funds for
the training of African-American pilots.
Of course there were strict racist protocols
regarding the training, & they only accepted
those applicants with high IQs and good educations,
& the resulting units formed were fully segregated,
staffed by all white officers.
So what was the Army Air Corps to do with these
“black gorillas with wings” that Congress had forced
upon them--of course, that became as little as possible.
At first the black pilots were trained at the
477th Bombardment Group to fly the
American B-25 Mitchell Bombers, but
they were never allowed to fly in combat.
But in 1941, First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt
inspected the Tuskegee Program, and she
was taken aloft for 30 minutes by veteran
black pilot Al Anderson. And gosh, right after
that the 99th Fighter Squadron was formed.
Still, the 99th was held in reserve until 1943,
when they were finally deployed to N. Africa;
only allowed to fly ground attacks, & were
prevented from flying air to air combat missions.
One bright note in the chaos was that their
aircraft kept improving; they cut their teeth
on the Curtiss P-40 Airhawk, then got the
Bell P-39 Aircobras, followed by the
Republic P-47 Thunderbolts-that were
the first planes to have their tails
painted blood red.
In July 1944, when I was a month old,
they received the first shipment of
American P-51 Mustangs. After drenching
their tails red, the squadron was finally
deployed to Europe, where they were
“allowed” to fly as fighter escorts for several
B-17 Bomber Groups. The bomber losses
had been as high as 50% on some raids,
but the Tuskegee unit flew 179 escort missions
and only lost 25 bombers, earning them the
affectionate nickname of Red Tail Angels.
Those black pilots fought like demons, unleashing
all their pent-up passions, sensing that they had
a chance to change history; and they did.
In desperation, the Germans sent up their super-fighters
against them, the FW 190 radical propeller fighters,
the ME 153 rocket-powered fighters, & then the
ME 262s, the world’s first jet fighters--and the
Red Tails shot them down by the dozens.
Three Tuskegee Airmen officers went on to become
generals in the Air Corps. In 2007, 300 of the surviving
airmen were awarded Congressional Gold Medals.
180 survivors attended the first inauguration
of Barack Obama.
I tell you we were very fortunate that a band
of black brothers rose up and sprouted angry
wings when we needed them, distinguishing
themselves against incredible segregational odds.
The survivors inspire us to strive to become
better Americans, where all of the Jim Crow
racism is pursued and punished with righteous
“extreme prejudice; and one day, I hope it will
be as extinct as polio, and that no one will tolerate
Posted over on dVerse Poets Poetics
Would you like to hear the author read this poem to you?