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, September 30, 2011

In The Spirit of Justice

     As has been mentioned previously in this blog, black men trained at Tuskegee to fly bombers as well as fighters during World War II.  The 477th Bombardment Group was established for the bomber pilots and support personnel at the same time as the 332nd Fighter Group, but its member had a much different wartime experience: they never deployed into battle. This happened for a number of reasons but the most controversial was an incident that happened in April, 1945 at Freeman Field in Seymour, Indiana.
     Prior to that timeframe, the members of the 477th were transferred from base to base, awaiting orders to head to the Pacific Theater and fly their B-25 bombers against the Japanese. The Group was originally stationed at Selfridge Field near Detroit, assigned to the 1st Air Force.  When a black officer applied for membership in the all-white Officers' Club there, the 1st Air Force's CO - General Frank Hunter - indicated that the existing lines between whites and blacks would be enforced and no black personnel would be allowed in the Club. (All pilots were officers as were many of the support personnel leadership.) After that go-round, Congress approved $75,000 to build a "black" Officers' Club on that base, but the Tuskegee Airmen never got to use it because they were transferred again.
     This time they headed to Godman Field, near Fort Knox in Kentucky.  Soon after that, they were moved again - north to Freeman Field in Indiana. With that transfer, Freeman Field suddenly had substantially more black military personnel than white. Conditions were crowded and the base segregation lines were strictly enforced.  The black officers DID have an Officers' Club on base - it was called "Officers' Club 1." It was small, run down, and had no amenities. "Officers' Club 2" was reserved for white officers only. and it was much nicer.
     Twenty days into their stay at Freeman and tired of being treated badly, the black officers decided to challenge the system.  On April 5, a group of experienced black pilots requested entry into Officers' Club 1 at about 9:15 p.m.  They were turned away.  About an hour later, another group of pilots asked to enter the Club, led by Lt. Marsden Thompson.  He stated that he wanted to exercise his rights as an officer of the US Army Air Corps and enter the Club for a drink.  When he was denied entry, he pushed past the officer on duty and entered the club; a group of his fellow black officers followed him in.  All of this took place without the use of force.  Later in the evening, a third group of black pilots used the same strategy as Lt. Thompson and entered the Club.  This group was led by Lt. Robert Terry.
     Within 24 hours, more than 100 black officers had been placed under house arrest and four days later, a new regulation was published.  Regulation 85-2 was authored by General Hunter (see above) and Freeman Field CO Colonel Robert Selway.  It laid out the strict segregation rules for housing, the dining mess, and recreational facilities - including the Officers' Club - for officers.  Col. Selway summoned all of the black officers - even those who had not participated in the Officers' Club incident - and ordered them to sign a statement that they had read and accepted  the conditions covered by Reg. 85-2.  101 black officers refused to sign the document.
     After a tense couple of weeks, made worse by the death of President Roosevelt, on April 19 all of the arrested officers were released except for the three "ringleaders."  Letters of reprimand were placed in their files and  the three leaders endured court martial. Only Lt. Terry was convicted of "violence against a superior officer" for pushing his way into the club.  He was fined $150.
     The bomber pilots and crew members involved with the mutiny were crucial to the upcoming invasion of Japan but their training had been halted by the events at Freeman Field.  The war against Japan ended in August, 1945 and they never saw battle.
     The letters of reprimand and Lt. Terry's court martial conviction followed the men throughout their careers.  In 1995 - 50 years after the fact -  notice was given to all who participated in the Freeman Field mutiny that their records would be expunged of the letters of reprimand and the court martial proceedings.

The CAF Red Tail Squadron 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, September 23, 2011

Happy Birthday To The Blog

     Today's blog marks the 52nd Friday that the Red Tail Squadron's blog has been published - a whole year of sharing thoughts with friends who stop in to see what this week's topic is.  Our first order of business on this occasion is to thank you for stopping by and reading the blog so faithfully.  It's been a hoot and a half to do this for you, and I hope we'll be spending many more anniversaries together.
   A lot has happened to the CAF Red Tail this past year. The two biggies were that we changed our name from the CAF Red Tail Project to the CAF Red Tail Squadron in June and rolled out the RISE ABOVE Traveling Exhibit in July.  These two events meant busy, busy months for the team, but have been so worth it. The Traveling Exhibit has opened minds to the story of the Tuskegee Airmen and how what they did can have meaning for today's youth. 
     The blog has spent a number of Fridays tying the Tuskegee Airmen to World War II to education to the military to aviation to American history to European history - whew!  We've had unusual entries (the story of Morse code, this history of military songs) and sad entries (history of military cemeteries, the 1925 War College Report, the story of the Leroy Homer, Jr. Foundation just last week).   We've talked about people from last century (Bessie Coleman, Eleanor Roosevelt, Noel Parrish, my dad and his love letters to my mom, German POWs ) and those who have spanned that century and this, including a number of Tuskegee Airmen (Joe Gomer, Charles McGee, Arthur Saunders and more).
     We've talked about airplanes - which should surprise no one.  The crash of the Liberty Belle, the restored Stearman bi-plane that turned out to be one used by cadets training at Tuskegee in the early 1940s, our own Mustang, the WWII liaison pilots' little "putt-putts."  We spent a lot of time on the rollout of the RISE ABOVE Traveling Exhibit - some may even say maybe too much time but when your organization arranges to build an IMAX-type screen housed in a semi-trailer with expandable sides that's climate controlled, can seat 30 and shows a cool movie with airplanes flying like you're in the cockpit, it does qualify as news!
     I have no idea what the next year will bring as far as topics to write about and that's half the fun for me.  I can tell you that next week's blog will be about the Freeman Field mutiny of 1945 when 162 Tuskegee Airmen wouldn't put up with being treated like 2nd-class officers by a racist commander and let him know it in no uncertain terms even though they suffered major consequences.
     If you have a topic idea for the blog, email it to cafredtailsquadron@comcast.net and I'll see if we can work your idea into the schedule for this year yet.  My favorite thing about writing this blog is the research I have to do to get each week's entry ready so don't be shy even if you think your idea may be a bit off the wall.
     Remember, the Tuskegee Airmen knew that their desire to fly and fight was "off the wall," but that didn't stop them.  They changed people's attitudes through their performance and persistence and that in turn changed history.

The CAF Red Tail Squadron 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, September 16, 2011

LeRoy W. Homer, Jr.

     As most Americans are very aware, last weekend marked the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks of 2001.  The memorial in New York City was ready to open.  The memorial in Shanksville, Pennsylvania was open to the public even though some work still needs to be completed on the grounds.  The Pentagon memorial was dedicated in 2008.
     Those are the "big" public memorials, the ones with physical sites where people can go to remember and reflect. Other kinds of memorials were established in memory of individuals who perished that day.  In fact, it's probably safe to say that the majority of the victims' family members were intent on doing good while ensuring that their loved ones not be forgotten.  Some started charities, some established scholarships, some donated memorial money to those who needed it more.
     Melodie Homer was one woman who decided to give back in the face of unimaginable loss. The widow of LeRoy W. Homer, Jr., she was determined that her husband - who was First Officer on Flight 93 which crashed in Pennsylvania - not be forgotten.  She established the LeRoy W. Homer Jr. Foundation to honor the pilot she had loved and lost. 
     What makes this foundation interesting is that it is totally focused on helping deserving young people meet their dream of becoming professional pilots or working in the field of aviation.  The Foundation awards at least one flight school scholarship each year.  To date, seven young men and six young women have received Foundation funds to help give them a leg-up toward aviation-based college studies by earning their pilots' licenses prior to college.  This is especially beneficial if their goal is to get into one of the military academies because entry competition is so fierce. 
     What I also found intriguing about Mr. Homer's personal story was how it stacked up against the stories of a lot of the men who would become known as the Tuskegee Airmen:

       - Wanted to fly since he was a kid?  Check
       - Fascinated by airplanes?  Check
       - Soloed as a teenager?  Check
       - Joined the US Army Air Corps/US Air Force?  Check
       - Flew for the military during wartime? Check
       - Married and had a family after serving? Check
       - Worked in aviation after leaving the military? Check

     To cap off all of those matching facts, Mr. Homer - who was black - was named (posthumously) an honorary Tuskegee Airman by Tuskegee Airmen, Inc.  Ironically, Mr. Homer would not have been able to meet his dream of becoming an Air Force pilot if not for the efforts of the Tuskegee Airmen.  They knew they were pioneers and that they had to be the best that they could be, even if it meant dying for their country (as Mr. Homer ultimately did).  The Airmen's dedication to duty and their performance during World War II helped lead to the desegregation of all branches of the U.S. military in 1948.

The CAF Red Tail Squadron 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.

www.redtail.org

Friday, September 9, 2011

Liaison Pilots Gave New Meaning To The Term "Sitting Duck"

     997 cadets received their pilot wings after training at Tuskegee Army Airfield. Of this number about 30 were USAAF Field Artillery Liaison Pilots who flew light observation airplanes for the 92nd Infantry Division (Buffalo Soldiers), which saw action assigned to the American 5th Army. This segregated unit was the only African American infantry division to see combat in Europe during World War II; its members served in the Italian Campaign from 1944 to the war's end.
     Liaison pilots flew little, undefended airplanes (unless you count the pilot's own sidearm!), often over enemy territory.  Most of the airplanes were covered in fabric, not metal (remember that the enemy was firing at them...) and all had engines with less than 175 hp.  Modern minivans typically have more horsepower! 
     The airplanes were so small and slow that they had unique names like "grasshoppers," "puddle jumpers," "putt-putts" and, my favorite, "Maytags" because the birds had small engines like washing machines. 
     The liaison pilots' job was to fly at low altitude and snoop on troop movements and gather other important information about the enemy. They also did photo and military reconnaissance, ferried spies into remote sites, shuttled people - including the injured - and deliver classified information to the front. They trained in unusual flying maneuvers such as take offs and landings on unimproved roads, one-wheel take offs and landings, and high power descents.  Without putting too fine a point on it, the liaison pilots truly did fly by the seat of their pants.
     The MinnesotaWing of the CAF has a Stinson L-5 Sentinel, one of the planes that liaison pilots flew.  This picture of it will give you a feel for how small and vulnerable these airplanes really were. 

     All WWII military personnel were brave, but the liaison pilots must have had a special type of bravado to get into their tiny cloth-covered airplanes and fly missions low and slow.

The CAF Red Tail Squadron 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, September 2, 2011

Tuskegee Airman Arthur Saunders

     The RISE ABOVE Traveling Exhibit was set up at the International Women's Air and Space Museum in Cleveland, Ohio this past Wednesday and Thursday.  Two special showings of the "RISE ABOVE" movie were scheduled on Wednesday, and Tuskegee Airman Arthur Saunders attended the morning event and was gracious during a meet-and-greet session after the movie.


 
Mr. Saunders was a 1st Lieutenant in the 477th Medium Bomber Group (which was later known as the 477th Composite Group).  Many people aren't aware of the fact that some Tuskegee-trained pilots trained to fly B-25 Mitchell bombers, but were never deployed because of the end of the war and other factors.  The 332nd Fighter Group was the only active unit populated by Tuskegee-trained pilots.


     Mr. Saunders was the Armament and Bombsight Officer for the 477th.  This meant that although he earned his pilot's license in 1941, he was earthbound but had big responsibilities. It was his job to ensure that all of the bombers had bullets for the defending machine guns, bombs in the bomb bays, and that each airplane's bombsight was operational (and accurate!).  He received his commission at Yale University in Armament, Bombsight and Engineering and trained at Tuskegee.
     We at the CAF Red Tail Squadron thank Mr. Saunders and the two other Tuskegee Airmen who stopped by the RISE ABOVE Traveling Exhibit during its visit to the International Women's Air and Space Museum.  Some of these fine gentlemen may also be at the Cleveland National Air Show which runs Saturday, September 3 through Monday, September 5. 
      We hope to see you there!

The CAF Red Tail Squadron 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.

www.redtail.org