Profile - The CAF Red Tail Project

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South St. Paul, MN, United States
The mission of the Commemorative Air Force's (CAF) Red Tail Squadron is to preserve and share the history and legacy of the Tuskegee Airmen, America's first black military pilots. The Airmen served with distinction during WWII (and beyond). They overcame racism on the ground to fight fascism in the air, fighting for a country that turned a blind eye to policies and a large population that discriminated against these men and their families because of the color of their skin. The CAF Red Tail Squadron restored and flies a red-tailed P-51C Mustang such as the Airmen flew during WWII. The airplane appears at air shows in North America and at each stop her crew tells the story of the Airmen and how through persistence and courage they overcame huge obstacles in order to serve in the military. In 2011, the CAF Red Tail Squadron developed a traveling exhibit called "RISE ABOVE" to educate people - especially young people - about the Airmen and how they demonstrated the importance of setting goals and overcoming obstacles in order to succeed.

Friday, December 31, 2010

Goals and Resolutions: Achieve Them, Don't Leave Them

     Tuskegee Airman and New York businessman Percy Sutton died a year ago this week, at the age of 89.  TIME magazine asked the Rev. Jesse Jackson to do a write up about his life on their "Milestones" page. Jackson described Sutton as a "Renaissance man" because of his long career in politics and business as well as his many interests.
     After studying law courtesy of the GI Bill after WWII, Sutton became Manhattan borough president in 1966, making him the highest-ranking black official in the state at the time.  He was active in the civil rights movement and marched in Selma, Alabama.  He was Malcolm X's attorney until his 1965 assassination.
    All of this and more were outlined in TIME, but one fact stood out in Jackson's short article.  It reflected in the modern day what the Tuskegee Airmen demonstrated as they worked to earn the right to fly and fight as military pilots in WWII. 
     In 1971, Sutton bought a radio station, making it the first black-owned station in New York City.  He had to go to 62 banks to get the money to buy that station.  Nothing is said about the reason he needed to persevere.  The banks' reluctance to provide the financing could have involved any number of factors including the color of his skin.  What stands out is that Sutton DID persevere.  62 times he approached a bank for financing to make his dream of owning a radio station come true.  62 times he gave a presentation designed to convince a bank management team that he was a good risk.  This man had a goal in mind and he wasn't going to rest until he achieved it.
    The Tuskegee Airmen showed that sort of dedication and persistence in the face of blatant discrimination due to the color of their skin. Nothing was going to keep them from becoming Army Air Corps pilots once the hangar door was finally opened to them.  The fact that the creation of the segregated airfield at Tuskegee was considered an "experiment" didn't faze them - they worked hard to earn their wings and prove the naysayers in the military brass wrong.  When they were sent overseas to serve in Africa and then Italy and white officers wouldn't exchange salutes with them, they worked through the insult and became legendary through sheer hard work, determination and skill.
    Tomorrow is the first day of 2011.  If you've made a New Year's resolution like I have, we could certainly benefit from approaching it like Percy Sutton and the rest of the Tuskegee Airmen did when they worked to reach their goals. 
·        Make a serious commitment to accomplish the change that the resolution/goal requires
·        Share your goal with others so they can encourage you (and maybe join you!)
·        Keep at it no matter how often you run into obstacles or get discouraged (Black men aren't qualified to fly in the U.S. Army Air Corps!  62 banks!)
·        Enjoy the rewards when you reach the goal

     Best wishes from everyone at the CAF Red Tail Project for a healthy and prosperous 2011.

Friday, December 24, 2010

A Letter From France, 25 December 1944

<U.S. Army Air Corps Lt. Cal Jansen was a B-26 Martin Marauder pilot during WWII.  He flew 26 missions, including the Battle of the Bulge, and was awarded the Air Medal.  His bomber group's missions were protected by Mustang fighters, but he never had the opportunity to serve with the Tuskegee Airmen. He wrote to his sweetheart, Lanie Peacock, at least twice a week from the time he entered flight school in 1943 until his last letter dated 21 November 1945 telling her he was coming home and they were going to "splurge on Christmas presents!"  They married 20 September 1946.  Cal left us on 25 June 1997 and Lanie on 16 Dec 2002.>

My beloved Princess,
     H'lo darling.  Merry Christmas.  Was Ol' St. Nick good to you or were you a bad girl?
     I haven't been doing much of anything.  Between cutting wood for our stove and trying to insulate our tent against the cold, we've kept ourselves occupied.  The last couple of nights have been bitter cold. When our fire goes out while we're asleep, when morning rolls around, the only thing that convinces you that you aren't outside is that you haven't any frost on you.  I also put on my long underwear and when I do that, it has to be downright cold.
     Last night I slept in my winter flying suit but my feet got cold.  I could do like Murph did and sleep with my flying boots on too but that's carrying it too far.  I'll think of somethin'. 
     Murph got stinkin' from drinkin' last night.  He also cut his hand when a champagne bottle broke in his hand.  They had a sort of drinking party at the makeshift officers club and there were few fellows who weren't drunk.  Some of 'em unlimbered their 45's and carbines and cut loose with a few rounds causing everyone around to wonder when a bullet would come wizzing through their tent or themselves, including me.  They're a playful bunch here.
     We wash and shave using our steel helmets for basins.  Just like in the movies.
     It's rough in the E. T. O.
     I had a Christmas present of sorts by getting to fly.  We went up for a test hop for an hour & 40 minutes and saw what part of France looks like from the air.  I can't wait until we go on our first mission.  I'm going to take my camera along to take pictures.  If I get to Paris, I'll be able to get some film.
     We had a swell supper tonight and I ate turkey till it almost ran out of my ears.  They had cranberries too which made my Christmas a happy one as far as eating is concerned.
     Sweetheart, I can never be really happy unless I'm with you.  I'm not really unhappy but sometimes we get fed up with this army life and have to beef a little.
     We know how we feel about each other and to me, that's all that counts for now.

G'night my darling
Many kisses
I love you and miss you terribly.
Your Cal

Cal and Lanie were my parents.  I have all of his wartime letters to her and thought you'd enjoy reading this one as it is a snapshot of a soldier on duty during wartime at Christmas, far away from those he loves.  The year doesn't matter, the name of the war or military action doesn't matter - what matters is that men and women have felt the same loneliness and appreciation for reminders of "home" (cranberries!!) while serving their country that Cal's letter reveals. We at the CAF Red Tail Project wish all military personnel and their families a safe and memorable Christmas and thank them for their sacrifice.
Robyn Feld, writer - the CAF Red Tail Project

Friday, December 17, 2010

Revamped Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum Exhibit Is A "Must-See"

     On November 19, the Pioneers of Aviation exhibit reopened at the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, DC. The original exhibit had been open since 1976 and was due for an update.  Reports are that the curators have done an excellent job putting together a thrilling history of aviation starting at about the 1920s and running through the end of the 20th century. 
     The exhibit is sponsored by the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation and features many full-sized airplanes such as Amelia Earhart's bright red Lockheed Vega.  It also has many educational displays and activities that are geared for children's hands-on interaction.  One of the more sophisticated activities, meant for older kids, is "flying a mission with the Tuskegee Airmen."  Younger kids can participate in story time and specialized play areas; 3-8 year-olds can design an airplane.
     Like all Smithsonian-based museums, admission to the exhibit and the rest of the museum is free. 
     The CAF Red Tail Project's traveling RISE ABOVE exhibit will also feature hands-on activities and interesting displays.  While it will not be nearly the size of the Air and Space Museum's exhibit and will be more tightly focused on one segment of aviation history - the story of the Tuskegee Airmen - it will have one huge advantage: the Project's exhibit will travel to its audience instead of waiting for people to come to it!  It's easy to imagine a middle school student getting excited about history and aviation when all she has to do is take a few steps from her school's door to enter the RISE ABOVE exhibit for some hands-on educational play and interesting, easy-to-understand displays.
     As the end of the year approaches, please consider making a fully tax-deductible donationto the CAF Red Tail Project's RISE ABOVE initiative.  Be part of our mission to inspire kids to be the best they can be by following the six guiding principles of the Tuskegee Airmen:
  1. Aim High
  2. Believe In Yourself
  3. Use Your Brain
  4. Be Ready To Go
  5. Never Quit
  6. Expect To Win
Thank you!

Friday, December 10, 2010

In The Beginning - A Very Brief Overview Of The Start Of The "Tuskegee Experiment"

     This past Tuesday marked the 69th anniversary of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.  That action prompted the U.S. to enter what was now the second World War.  Since 1939, there had been a massive war mobilization as President Franklin Roosevelt and others worked to adjust the American psyche to the idea that the country would eventually be at war. 
     Part of the pre-war effort involved designating funds for the military.  The U.S. Army Air Corps was a large beneficiary of that funding for one simple reason: it needed it.  Existing aircraft were old, if not obsolete, and personnel was sparse.  It was understood that in this War, a lot of the fighting would be done in the air. The Nazis had already proven they had good air power with the Blitzkrieg over Poland and other invasions and ground troops would benefit by having air support.
    After a lot of negotiations between black leaders, the President and the military - and some legal actions as well - the U.S. Army Air Corps decided that black men would be given a chance to train to fly.  On March 21, 1941 just a little over nine months prior to the Pearl Harbor attack, the 99th Pursuit Squadron was activated and in July, construction began on the Tuskegee Army Air Field.  The "Experiment" was proceeding apace.
    Fast forward almost exactly a year to March 2, 1942 when five young black cadets graduated from Tuskegee, receiving their wings as America's first black military pilots.  There had been more men in that class, but only the five made it through the extremely difficult studies without "washing out."   
     One of the graduates was Benjamin O. Davis, Jr., the son of the Army's only black general.  This young man had already graduated from West Point Academy, where, as a black man, he was shunned by his white classmates the entire four years he was at the school in an attempt to get him to leave. 
     An outstanding pilot, he would go on to lead the 99th Fighter Squadron in 1943 in North Africa and then the 332nd Fighter Group in Italy early in 1944. He continued to serve his country in the Air Force (as the U.S. Army Air Corps became known after WWII) until his retirement in 1970 as a lieutenant general.  He was elevated to the rank of general (retired) in 1998.

For an interesting history of the era of the Tuskegee Airmen, the book "Tuskegee Airmen: The Men Who Changed A Nation" by Charles E. Francis and Adolph Caso would be a good choice.  The book is available through the CAF Red Tail Project's online store.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

69 Years Ago In The Skies Over Hawaii

      The December 7, 1941 Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor was a full-out surprise for the defenders who quickly rallied to fight the Zeros and other types of enemy aircraft looping and turning and strafing in the clear morning light.  As was typical, each aircraft - American and Japanese alike - was painted with "country of origin" markings specific to its squadron.
     The CAF Red Tail Project's P-51C Mustang also boasts a unique paint job.  Most people note the red tail right off the bat, but the other markings also tell a story.  The colors represent the four fighter squadrons in the Tuskegee Airmen's iconic 332nd Group:
  • The red and yellow cowling represents the 302nd Fighter Squadron.
  • The A on the side represents the 99th Fighter Squadron.
  • The yellow banding on the wings represents the 301st Fighter Squadron.
  • The red fins on the wings represents the 100th Fighter Squadron.
     To see pictures and learn more about the CAF Red Tail Project's Mustang, click here.