Tuskegee Airmen pave the way for future fighters

(Tuskegee Airmen)
November 11, 2010 8:02:04 PM PST
Four surviving members of the Tuskegee Airmen were featured as grand marshals of the Veterans Day parade in Marin City. The group became America's first African American fighter pilots during world war II.

Leslie Alan Williams, Leroy Gillead and retired Lt. Col. Harold K. Hoskins Sr. live in the Bay Area and are part of an elite group known as the legendary "Tuskegee Airmen."

"When you talk about Tuskegee Airmen, you're talking about the blacks who served in World War II, in the fighter group and the bomber group," Gillead said.

President Franklin D. Roosevelt's administration made the decision in 1940, that black Americans would be included in military aviation, even though the armed forces were not integrated. Nearly 1,000 pilots trained at a segregated airfield near Tuskegee, Alabama. The program ran for nearly 10 years.

"I enjoyed the pleasure of being in the very first group of bomber pilots created from the Tuskegee Airmen," Williams said.

"I wanted to contribute to the fighting forces of the United States," Williams said.

They not only faced war overseas, but they faced a war at home with racist attacks and indignities from fellow white Americans.

Williams and Gillead are 91 and Hoskins is the youngster at 83. They served as Tuskegee airmen at different times and places in the 40s. But, their memories of those days are still sharp.

"My efforts as far as winning this war was to try to win this prejudice war that was continuing," Williams said.

President Harry Truman issued an executive order in 1948 to integrate the armed forces. Hoskins was part of that group.

"When we arrived, there were 200 white student officers, and 300 white student cadets. So when we got there, they called us in and said, 'you are the experimental class, the armed forces are not integrated. So what we are going to do is, the Tuskegee Airmen proved that they were smart enough to fly airplanes, they had the courage to fight in combat, it's going to be up to you fellows to show that you can perform in an integrated situation with white students,'" he said.

The original Tuskegee Airmen were not allowed to serve with their white counterparts, so they painted the tails of their planes red to identify themselves. The red tails flew 15,000 sorties, 1,500 missions and more than 200 combat missions.

"The fighter group was recognized because they had the best record escorting allied planes during the war," Gillead said.

Congress presented the Tuskegee Airmen, living and deceased, with the Congressional Gold Medal in 2007. It recognized that the Tuskegee Airmen are heroes and legends to be honored and remembered. They made history by serving their country and this country is better for their service.


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