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, January 14, 2011

“Those colored pilots”

     The black military pilots and their support crews who are now known collectively as the Tuskegee Airmen weren’t called that during the second World War as they flew and fought against the Nazis.  A quote by Tuskegee Airman Lt. Col. (ret.)  William O. Holloman III in a 2008 article that appeared in in the Honolulu Star Bulletin makes a good point about that.  In reference to his experiences during the War, he said, “We were ‘those colored pilots.’  Then we were ‘Negroes’ until 1963 when we became ‘black.’ Then somebody dreamed up ‘African-American’, which I sort of resent.  I’m an American who happens to be of African descent.”  He went on to say that the title of “Tuskegee Airmen” really came to be recognized in the 1970s when the group that trained at Tuskegee organized an educational trust under that name.  That group, Tuskegee Airmen Inc., continues to sponsor myriad scholarships annually.
     “Wild Bill” Holloman passed away last year, but like all Airmen, he left a legacy of war heroism during WWII and a post-war record of achievement and citizenship.  After the War, he went on to become the first black military helicopter pilot and served in Korea and Vietnam.  Overall, he logged more than 17,000 hours as a military pilot.  He later became a professor of history at the University of Washington. 
     Holloman was interviewed at the Planes of Fame Air Show in Chino, CA in May 2010.  It was his last air show interview.  Follow this link to hear that interview which runs about 22 minutes. 
     Like so many of the Airmen, Holloman was always happy to talk about his experiences as a black military pilot because he understood how important the experiences of the Tuskegee Airmen were. He logged a lot of travel time going to different venues to speak.  He and another Airman, Alexander Jefferson, went to Hawaii in 2008 to speak at a Black History Month event at the Pacific Aviation Museum at Pearl Harbor.  While  there, they met a local artist who had included the two of them in a picture she painted to honor the Tuskegee Airmen.  Pati O’Neal called her painting “Tuskegee Tales” and it depicts the CAF Red Tail Project’s Mustang sitting in its classic hangar in South St. Paul, MN.  A young Holloman in full flight gear is shown in the wing of the plane and a grandfatherly Jefferson sits nearby reading to a group of children.
     Across the ceiling of the hangar is a quote from another Airman, Joseph P. Gomer of Duluth MN.  It was his way of describing what so many Airmen thought about fighting for a country that insisted on treating them as second-class citizens because of the color of their skin.  Gomer’s beautiful statement reads, “But we’re all Americans. That’s why we chose to fight. I’m as American as anybody. My black ancestors were brought over here perhaps against their will to help build America. My German ancestors came over to build a new life. And my Cherokee ancestors were here to greet all the boats.”
     To read an article about the painting that features Holloman, Jefferson and Gomer, click here and scroll down to page 5.  (You'll need Adobe Reader to see this - click here to install it. It's free.)
     Prints of the O'Neal painting are available at the CAF Red Tail Project’s online store.  Click here for more information about this unique and beautifully rendered print. Remember all proceeds from the CAF Red Tail Project's online store go directly to further the Project's mission of educating people about the history and legacy of the Tuskegee Airmen.

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