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 4, 2012

Photographer Toni Frissell

[Last week’s parachute blog featured a picture of Tuskegee Airman Edward Gleed, taken by Toni Frissell.  The professionalism of that photo made me want to find out more about her.]

     Antoinette Frissell, known to all as “Toni,” was an established fashion photographer for the major American magazines of the day, when she volunteered for the Red Cross and was asked to go to Europe to cover World War II from the perspective of women and black pilots and their crews.   This is a shot of her in her Red Cross uniform holding a camera.  Her cameras were heavy, two-handed affairs, which makes her willingness to traipse all over Europe to take pictures during wartime even more impressive.

     She took hundreds of photos of the Tuskegee Airmen at their base in Ramitelli, Italy.  This is Benjamin O. Davis, Jr.  The CAF Red Tail Squadron uses part of this image in our website header.  I like this picture because you can see the "flaws" - lines and dots.  This is a true "real life" shot.

     Four Mustangs flying in formation over Ramitelli:

     Tuskegee Airmen Marcellus G. Smith and pilot Roscoe Brown examine a P-51D Mustang.  Mr. Brown served as an adviser for the “Red Tails” movie.  This is not the Mustang with which he is commonly associated - that one he named "Bunnie."

     Ms. Frissell's was the only U.S. photographer formally assigned to take pictures at Ramitelli, the 332nd Fighter Group's main base. When you see a picture of a Tuskegee Airman during wartime, changes are very good that she took the shot, even if there is no attribution.
     Back in England, Ms. Frissell photographed a subway tunnel, complete with bunkbeds.  Britons took refuge from bombs in these tunnels.

     A German V2 rocket hit the town of Battersea, England in January 1945.  This picture captures the shock and fear the young girl has experienced.

     After the war, Ms. Frissell went back to shooting fashion and society photos, including the wedding of Congressman John F. Kennedy to Miss Bouvier.  

     This fashion shot intrigued me for two reasons – you know that to take it, she had to be in the tank, too, and Marineland, Florida is only about 20 miles from where I’m currently living.  Someday before I leave for home (Minnesota), I hope to be able to swim with dolphins in one of their tanks – maybe this one!

     She was also the first woman photographer on staff at Sports Illustrated.  This cover is from 1959.

     Ms. Frissell donated her negatives and existing photos to the Library of Congress.  Some have been digitized, but many have not. She died of Alzheimer’s disease in 1988.  Her husband had predeceased her and she was survived by a daughter, a son, and a photography portfolio of outstanding breadth and beauty.

Semper Fi
     The RISE ABOVE Traveling Exhibit and the Mustang are at the MCAS (Marine Corps Air Station) Cherry Point Air Show this weekend.  After this, the rig and airplane have a couple of weeks of down time.  The Mustang will get some scheduled maintenance and the Hollises, our drive team, will enjoy being able to do laundry during the day instead of having to rouse at 5 a.m. to get that done before opening up the Traveling Exhibit to students or air show attendees.  

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

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