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, May 27, 2011

Before You Can Memorialize, You Have To Bury

     Death and burial are completely counter to what we Americans like to talk about, but we're coming up on Memorial Day, a day designated to remember and honor all deceased members of the American armed forces, so today's blog is going to ground - literally.  We're going to talk about cemeteries.
     Most Americans are familiar with Arlington National Cemetery just across the Potomac River from Washington DC.  Each Memorial Day, volunteers place a small flag by  every grave (!) on its 624 acres. 
     Arlington was actually the ancestral home of Robert E. Lee's wife, who was a great- granddaughter of Martha Washington. It has an interesting post-Civil war history that includes a tax sale and a Supreme Court ruling that the Lee family actually still owned the property after part of it had been turned into a Union cemetery.  (The family eventually sold it back in 1875 - while Abraham Lincoln's son, Robert, was Secretary of the Army.)
     The Department of the Army manages it now, along with the United States Soldiers' and Airmen's Home National Cemetery in Washington DC.
     The Department of Veterans Affairs' National Cemetery Administration has a bigger job when it comes to cemeteries - it maintains 131 national cemeteries in 39 states and Puerto Rico plus an array of soldier's lots and monuments.
   Some Tuskegee Airmen (and my own father) are buried in Minnesota's Fort Snelling National Cemetery.  Preparations are in full swing for this weekend's services and visitors.  Click here for a slide show
     Fort Snelling National Cemetery is the home of the first all-volunteer Memorial Rifle Squad (MRS) in the National Cemetery Administration. The MRS performed their first service in June 1979. There is a squad for each weekday and they can provide honors for as many as 17 veterans each day.
     The squad members are all honorably-discharged veterans and besides the riflemen, each squad has a bugler who plays “Taps.” As of July of 2010, they had rendered the final salute for 56,111 veterans. Two special notes of interest:  The squad's members' average age is more than 70 years old and they have never missed a scheduled service during their existence because of inclement Minnesota weather.
     The MRS travels from gravesite to gravesite (Fort Snelling has 323 acres) in a special bus but is all business once they alight.  The leader briefly greets the immediate family and then the squad performs the rifle salute and Taps.  It is a very moving experience.  For more information about the national cemeteries, click here.
     Many states have established state veterans cemeteries. Eligibility is similar to the national cemeteries, but may include residency requirements. Even though most may have been established or improved with Government funds through the VA’s State Cemetery Grants Program, state veterans cemeteries are run solely by the states.  Click here for more information.
     The Department of the Interior’s National Park Service maintains 14 national cemeteries including those with familiar names from the Civil War (Shiloh, Gettysburg and Vicksburg) and Little Bighorn of General Custer fame. Of the 14, 12 are closed to new interments but two still have room for modern-day veterans. Click here for more information
      Of course, the government-run cemeteries make up just a small part of the country's patchwork of burial places.  It seems like each town has at least one cemetery where veterans are buried.  On Memorial Day, the flags will be flying, the parades will be proceeding and the speeches will be stirring. 
    There are 72 hours in the upcoming 3-day weekend.  I'm sure you have plans, but if you have a chance to spend a couple of hours watching a parade with flags, bands, marching units and kids, or hearing a few heart-felt speeches about patriotism and sacrifice, why not take it?  It'll do your heart good.

The CAF Red Tail Project is a volunteer-driven 501c3 non-profit organization that operates under the auspices of the Commemorative Air Force. For more information, please visit redtail.org.


Friday, May 20, 2011

Three Minute Egg Club

     We at the CAF Red Tail Project are always looking for photos about the Airmen to hold in our archives, to be used as the occasion warrants.  We recently came across a wonderful photo showing three Tuskegee Airmen members of "The Three Minute Egg Club." 
     This "club" was evidently the brainchild of pilots in the 15th Air Force during World War II.  Although we don't (yet) have permission to use it as part of our educational mission, it is OK to share via a link so here it is, along with a description of who got to belong to that exclusive club.
     As I conduct research for the writing I do for the CAF Red Tail, I have a tendency to be sidetracked by individual stories of the Airmen when I run across them. They are so interesting! For example, here's a bit about the Airman in the middle of the picture -  Lt. Wilson V. Eagleson, II from Bloomington, IN. 
     He attended Civilian Pilot Training School while he was a student at West Virginia State College.  He joined the Army in 1942 and graduated from Tuskegee in April, 1943.  During World War II, he flew many missions in P-40s and P-51s, and was injured twice.  After the war, he helped close down the flight training program at Tuskegee and left the military, only to reenlist in time to serve in the Korean and Vietnam wars. 
     During his military career, Eagleson was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross, the Red Star of Yugoslavia, an Air Medal with six oak leaf clusters and a Purple Heart with an oak leaf cluster. He retired from the Air Force in 1972 and spent time raising horses and dogs.  He also traveled to speak to groups about the Tuskegee Airmen.  Eagleson died in 2006; the Goldsboro (NC) chapter of Tuskegee Airmen Inc. is named for him.
     So few words but such an important life as an American citizen who was part of a groundbreaking group of pilots.

The CAF Red Tail Project is a volunteer-driven 501c3 non-profit organization that operates under the auspices of the Commemorative Air Force. For more information, please visit redtail.org.



Friday, May 13, 2011

Have Camera, Will Shoot

      It would be interesting to know how many pictures have been taken of the CAF Red Tail Project's P51-C Mustang Tuskegee Airmen during its flight "lifetime" to date. It's probably in the tens of thousands if you include pictures that were taken during its two restorations.
      I received an email out of the blue from a retired gentleman in Ohio named Roger Fair who happened to be at the Port Clinton (OH) airport when one of the airplane's talented pilots, Paul Stojkov, brought it in for a landing. Mr. Fair enjoys photography and took some nice shots of the Mustang. He then took the time to email me to let me know he'd be posting them on his blog. He included some nice commentary with his photos. You can see them here. If you have any photos of the airplane you'd like to share with us, please email robyn@redtail.org.
      There are also a number of videos showing the Mustang in flight on YouTube. Just search for "red tail project." The Mustang is the perfect photography subject - there are no bad angles and even in the rain it looks good!
      The Mustang was in Ohio to be part of the filming of the informational and inspirational film about the Tuskegee Airmen that will be shown in the Project's new RISE ABOVE mobile exhibit. The exhibit will feature a 30-seat theater with a 180-degree screen, which will ensure a thrilling viewing experience.
      RISE ABOVE is scheduled to be on the road by July of this year, traveling to air shows with the Mustang and to schools, malls and other venues during the weeks that there are no air shows scheduled. We at the CAF Red Tail Project couldn't be more delighted to know that the Project's mission, as articulated by the Project's visionary and original leader, the late Don Hinz, is taking another big step forward: "Our objective is to carry the lessons and legacy of the Tuskegee Airmen into every classroom in America."

The CAF Red Tail Project is a volunteer-driven 501c3 non-profit organization that operates under the auspices of the Commemorative Air Force. For more information, please visit redtail.org.


Friday, May 6, 2011

Aviation Pioneer Eleanor Roosevelt (!)

     Since it's almost Mother's Day, I thought it would be appropriate to have today's blog feature a woman who gave birth to six children in the space of ten years (!) while supporting her husband's (and her husband's mother's...) political ambitions.  The ultimate multi-tasker, Eleanor Roosevelt became the First Lady of the United States in 1933 and was a tireless crusader for civil rights as well as an advocate for women.
     It was while she was First Lady that Mrs. Roosevelt did something that surprised the nation and would have a far-reaching impact on the U.S. military establishment:  She took an airplane ride.   While visiting Tuskegee, Alabama in March, 1941 to see the work being done at the Tuskegee Institute, she also visited the Tuskegee Army Air Field which was close by.  When she expressed a wish to take a ride in an airplane piloted by a black man, TAAF flight instructor Alfred "Chief" Anderson stepped up. 
     According to the book A-Train by Tuskegee Airman Charles W. Dryden, Mrs. Roosevelt told Anderson, "I always heard Negroes couldn't fly and I wondered if you'd mind taking me up."   It is reported that they  flew over the hills and fields of Alabama in Anderson's little Piper Cub for quite awhile.  When they landed, Mrs. Roosevelt said, "Well, you can fly alright" and asked that a photograph be taken of her with Chief Anderson in the airplane.


      After that experience, Mrs. Roosevelt added her voice to those who were urging her husband to send the Tuskegee-trained pilots of the 99th Fighter Squadron into combat.  The 99th finally shipped out for North Africa in April, 1943.
     Besides quietly supporting the flight training program at Tuskegee, she also corresponded with a young Tuskegee Airmen named Cecil Peterson while he was at Tuskegee.  Peterson was chosen at random to receive Mrs. Roosevelt's letters, but he evidently did answer them.  For a sample of that formal yet friendly correspondence, click here.
    NOTE: The CAF Red Tail Project's online store carries Charles Dryden's book A-Train.  All proceeds from purchases at the online store benefit the Project's educational mission.  Click here to shop.

The CAF Red Tail Project is a volunteer-driven 501c3 non-profit organization that operates under the auspices of the Commemorative Air Force. For more information, please visit redtail.org.