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, November 25, 2011

Giving Thanks for Angel Flights

     I don’t have a pilot’s license - and will be envious of those who do until the day I die - so you would be correct in wondering why I’d devote a Red Tail Squadron blog entry to “angel flights” since there’s no chance I could ever participate as a pilot and give a first-person account.  There is no direct connection to the Tuskegee Airmen or World War II or history, either.
    Ah, but is that really true?  What if a Tuskegee Airman (and remember the “Tuskegee Airman” title also refers to ground personnel who supported the fighter and bomber pilots throughout the war years) needed to get to a medical appointment in another city, but the distance was a challenge or the travel cost was a budget issue?  Maybe time was an issue, too.  He or she could contact a local Public Benefit Flying Organization (a.k.a. an “angel flight” group) to arrange to be flown to and from the appointment at no charge. 
     Of course, this service is available to more than just Tuskegee Airmen. There is a network of Public Benefit Flying Organizations across the U.S. and all have the same goal – to provide free transportation in private aircraft to those needing to get to medical appointments at facilities a distance from their homes.  There is also no charge if a caregiver needs to come along on the flight to help the patient.  The participating pilots donate their time and aircraft; all of the organizations are supported by financial donations to defray additional costs.   
     Here is a quick list of the groups that offer “angel flights” in the United States and the states they serve (states with asterisks behind them are served by multiple organizations):

Angel Flight Central (
Angel Flight East (
Angel Flight Inc. Oklahoma (
AR, KS, LA*, MO, NM*, OK, TX
Angel Flight Mid-Atlantic (
NC, VA, Washington DC, WV
Angel Flight Northeast (
Angel Flight Soars (
Angel Flight West (
Cair Flight (
Giving Flight (
Lifeline Pilots (
Pilots for Patients (
Volunteer Pilots Association (

Other websites with general information about these types of flights include and
     These charitable groups are always looking for “Earth angels” too, so if you’re not a pilot but would like to help out, contact a group near you.  Of course if you ARE a pilot and want to be involved, same deal – click on the link of the group that serves your area, give them a call and see if you can help.
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

Friday, November 18, 2011

The Blitz

     As this fall’s “Occupy Wall Street” movement expanded from the U.S. to Europe and beyond, protesters in the London, England offshoot camped out in front of St. Paul’s cathedral.  The protesters were left alone for awhile, but eventually the church’s staff members shut the doors to the cathedral, citing a concern about potential health and safety hazards. A newspaper article about the closure mentioned that “it was the first time since the German Luftwaffe blitzed London during World War II that St. Paul’s was closed to worshipers.”
     The word “blitz” – which is German for “lightning” - is not typically capitalized.  However, in describing the pounding that England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland endured for eight months, courtesy of the Luftwaffe, the word gained a well-deserved capital “B” and became known for all time as “the Blitz.”
     The damage statistics for this bombing campaign by Hitler against the British people are staggering.  London was bombed 78 nights in a row. Overall, from September 7, 1940 until May 11, 1941, more than 40,000 British civilians were killed and more than a million houses were destroyed by bombing or burning (incendiary bombs were heavily used). Besides London and other large cities in England, major industrial areas like Glasgow in Scotland, Belfast in Ireland, and Cardiff in Wales sustained major damage.
     As the Nazi war machine moved across Europe in the late 1930’s, the British knew that at some point the Nazis would attack them from the air so they did what they could to prepare for it.  Many city dwellers shipped their children to the countryside to live with relatives, and, in some cases, strangers, who agreed to care for the children.  Whole families took to sleeping outside in the forests, thinking it would be safer there during bombing raids than being inside in town. Many built pre-fabricated shelters underground and others built shelters in their homes. Londoners who had access to the Underground, a.k.a. the “Tube,” along with other large structurally sound surface shelters considered themselves lucky to have things so convenient.
     Originally, the powers-that-be declared the London Tube stations and tunnels off limits due to concerns about the ability to move troops and clean-up crews around on the trains during attacks if the stations and tunnels were full of citizens.  They relented when it became obvious that the bombings were going to continue, the attacks would be taking place at night, and a determined populace would just break in anyhow. 
AP photo

     It’s estimated that during September 1940, between 150,000 and 175,000 people took shelter every night in the subway.  Being an orderly people, everyone lined up (“queued”) for entry to the Underground, which opened up at 4:00 every afternoon.  Soon, heating and sanitary facilities were improved and a canteen train ran between some stations, selling food and other necessities.  These touches helped but didn’t negate the fear during the bombing raids and the concern that one’s house might be gone in the morning. They were right to be concerned - here’s a link to some Blitz pictures.
     The British people endured the carnage of the night bombings until mid-May, 1941. At that point, Hitler realized that while the threat of bombardment had not frightened the British people into capitulation as it had many European countries, the actual bombardment had only brought the Brits’ determination to soldier on to the fore. Hitler (rightly) perceived the threat from the Soviet Union to be growing so he pulled the plug on the Blitz and moved his resources to the Western Front.      
     It would be interesting to know how we Americans would have reacted to such a direct threat from the skies.  How would we have handled leaving our homes each afternoon to descend into a damp underground cavern, not knowing if our homes would be there when we emerged 12 hours later? Fortunately, except for the horror of 9/11, we’ve not been tested.

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

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Wahoo for Razoo!!

     Today is "Give To The Max" day, powered by and sponsored by  The idea is to make it easy for people all across the country to donate to the non-profit of their choice in a sort of 24-hour "giving blitz."  This is the first year the CAF Red Tail Squadron has participated in it and we invite you to check out the page on Razoo that our Marketing Director, Lavone Kay, put together. 
     It has some good info about the Rise Above educational program, which is what the Squadron is all about - using the lessons of the Tuskegee Airmen's rising above the obstacles in their way to become legendary pilots and soldiers, and purposeful American citizens.  It also gives donors an idea about how their donations will be used.  All donations are tax-deductible as allowed by law.
     Please take a minute and check out this link to our donation page.  Even if you decide not to give, you'll get some good information.
     By the way, Friday's blog will be about another kind of "blitz" - the one Hitler launched over England in 1940 in an attempt to beat the citizenry down.  In London, the citizenry went down, all right - into the subway stations as bombs dropped overhead.  It's a stirring story of heroic English pilots protecting equally heroic people who were determined to not let Hitler win.

Friday, November 11, 2011


     Today is Veteran's Day.  As I type this, my late father's WWII dog tag is hanging on my desk lamp.  There's only one tag which is odd because the U.S. military issued each soldier two tags during WWII.  One was to stay with the body if the G.I. was killed and the other was to be turned in to expedite the paperwork.  Since Dad came home in one piece after piloting his B-26 "Jolly Roger" on 27 missions over France and Germany, I have no idea what happened to the other one.
   The single tag isn't really "single" - there are also two medals attached to the link chain.  One is a small, heavily tarnished silver St. Christopher medal and the other is an even smaller one of the Virgin Mary.  Dad's father was Catholic so I assume the Mary medal was from him.  Gramma J. was German Lutheran and believed in doing whatever it took to get the job done so I'm guessing that even though she wasn't Catholic, she appropriated the protective powers of St. Christopher to keep her only surviving son safe during his travels.
    The history of the dog tag is a "tail" in itself (sorry, couldn't resist).  During the Civil War, men would pin information about themselves onto their persons.  This was to ensure that if they were killed in battle, the brass would know where to ship the bodies home. The first to have military-issued tags were the Prussians who named the item Hundemarken ("Hund" is the German word for "dog").  This was during the Franco-Prussian war in 1870.
    The United States adopted this practical concept 36 years later in 1906 when a War Department order outlined how an aluminum I.D. tag would have basic information about a soldier and would be worn around the neck.  Interestingly, enlisted men got them for free; officers had to pay.  The original order was amended in 1916 when it was directed that each soldier was to be issued two tags for the reasons outlined above.  The practice continues today - my son, Scott, has worn his to Korea (twice), Bosnia, and Iraq (twice).
     The CAF Red Tail Squadron gives a decorative dog tag to each child who visits the RISE ABOVE Traveling Exhibit when it is at a school or when youth and student groups visit the Exhibit at an air show venue.  One side has logos on it, the other lists the six guiding principles of the Squadron's Rise Above educational initiative, based on an interpretation of the Tuskegee Airmen's success factors: Aim High, Believe in Yourself, Use Your Brain, Never Quit, Be Ready To Go, and Expect To Win.   
Since the youngsters have just seen the "Rise Above" movie about the Tuskegee Airmen, the dog tags are a wonderful and unique reinforcement of what they've learned about the value of setting goals and overcoming obstacles to meet them, no matter what.
     The kids love receiving their dog tags and seeing their reactions when they have them in their hands is a real joy for those working with the RISE ABOVE Traveling Exhibit.  Naturally, there is a cost for the tags - we get about 19 dog tags for each $15 spent.  If you'd care to donate to help us pay for these inspirational gifts for young people, here's a link to our website's donation page.  Your donation is tax deductible and very much appreciated.
    Finally, if you know a veteran, how about thanking him or her today for their service and sacrifice?  It just takes a minute and means so much.  The United States truly is the home of the free because of the brave.  Thanks, Dad and Scott.

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 

Friday, November 4, 2011

On Bullying

<Fair warning - today's blog has nothing to do with airplanes, World War II, air shows, etc.  Instead, in this age of diminished civility on so many levels, I decided to base the blog on an anecdotal story I saw on Facebook.  Since many - me included - feel that the instant and often anonymous communication that social media channels like Facebook allows has contributed to we humans' inability to be consistently gracious to one another, I enjoyed the irony.>

     My former sister-in-law posted the story below on her Facebook page this week.  I didn't run it by Snopes because even if it wasn't true, I thought it was a wonderful way to get the point across that what you say to someone - and how you say it - matters. The "target market" for the teacher's exercise was youngsters, but even we older folks can use a reminder once in a while:

     A teacher in New York was teaching her class about bullying and gave them an exercise to perform.  She had each child take a piece of paper and told them to crumple it up, stomp on it and really mess it up, but not to rip it.  Then she had them unfold each sheet of  paper, smooth it out and look at how scarred and dirty is was.  She then told them to tell their papers they were sorry.

    Even though the children said they were sorry and tried to fix the papers, she pointed out all the scars they left behind on each sheet.  And that those scars will never go away no matter how hard they tried to fix it.  She said that that is what happens when a child bullies another child - bullies may say they’re sorry, but the scars are there forever.  The looks on the faces of the children in the classroom told her the message hit home.

     As a group, the men who would become known as the Tuskegee Airmen endured bullying because of the color of their skin and the fact that they worked toward a goal that many felt they had no business trying to attain. Many citizens of Tuskegee, Alabama, which was located in the deep South, bullied the cadets individually and as a group if they ventured into town, taunting them with intimidating language and threats.  The military bullied them - the first two base commanders at Tuskegee enforced the local "whites only" rules by requiring that the mess, water fountains, restrooms and other "public" areas on the base be segregated just as they were in town.  The military looked the other way when white officers would not return black officers' salutes. 
     When you think about it, it's pretty amazing how the individual Tuskegee Airmen had the collective backbone to continue to strive to be the best they could be when so many were either telling them outright or subtly hinting that they would never be up to snuff.  It's the Airmen's focus on overcoming obstacles to reach their goal that is the basis for the CAF Red Tail Squadron's RISE ABOVE educational mission.  If the Squadron can help young people see that it is possible to persevere and succeed - using the Airmen's history as an example - perhaps even those who have been crumpled and scarred by bullying can see their way to rise above what life has handed them and succeed.

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