The little town of Walterboro, SC became home to the Walterboro Army Air Field (WAAF) in 1942 after the Army purchased more than 3,000 acres abutting the town’s little airfield and built more runways and buildings. The main purpose of the new base was to provide air combat training to fighter and bomber groups before they headed into war. In 1944, the airfield’s training changed to “advanced” and focused on individual pilots training. From early 1944 to October 1945, Tuskegee-trained pilots went there to train after receiving their wings at Tuskegee. This included many fighter pilots classes and all of the 477th Bomber Group pilots.
|Hiram Mann's class 44-F|
Having graduated from Tuskegee, the black pilots already knew how to fly but they were drilled in gunnery, formation flying and other skills they’d need in the field. In his book, “A-Train,” Tuskegee Airman Charles “A-Train” Dryden said, “So many men came to Walterboro as junior pilots and left about four months later to go overseas as well-trained fighter pilots…“During their relatively short stay at Walterboro the trainees logged an average of sixty hours in various types of training, including: transition into the fighter aircraft to learn how to make safe takeoffs and landings, formation flying, instrument and night flying, aerial and ground gunnery, aerobatics, and combat tactics.”
|Historical marker in Walterboro, Side 1 (photo by Mike Stroud)|
The base was open to blacks and whites but segregated so the Tuskegee pilots had to use a separate mess and barracks. Airman Spann Watson said in his book, “Red Tails, Black Wings,” that: “The best training fighter pilots ever got, they got at Walterboro. We put aside the race battles and put out good pilots. We had some of the most sincere people. I didn’t see any sloughing off in training black people for combat.”The segregation grated, though. The base was also home to a POW camp for German soldiers. These “enemies” could use all of the “white” facilities but the black pilots could not. In 1945, an order came down from the brass that officers’ clubs were to be integrated on US bases. In Walterboro, white WAAF officers moved their activities to the local country club rather than associate with black officers. Tensions in town and on base only eased when the base closed that October and all soldiers were transferred elsewhere.
|Historical marker in Walterboro, Side 2 (photo by Mike Stroud)|
Walterboro is now home to a chapter of Tuskegee Airmen, Inc. It is named after Tuskegee Airman Hiram Mann who, even though he is now in his 90s, works tirelessly to promote the value of education to young people and share the Tuskegee Airmen story with everyone.
|Hiram Mann greeting fans at the RISE ABOVE Traveling Exhibit while in New Smyrna Beach, FL, March 2012|
NOTE: One of the things I enjoy most about writing these blogs is doing the research many require. For this entry, I lucked out and discovered an online database of historical markers. It is searchable by category, U.S. state, and country. If history is your thing, I encourage you to check it out at www.hmdb.org. I guarantee that I’ll access it often. My current favorite is the Duck Memorial in Baghdad, Iraq: “Dedicated to the Memory of all the displaced ducks who gave up their home in the hopes of a better Iraq…” Intrigued? Click here to view.
Another Wonderful Free Air ShowThe free Joint Service Open House and Air Show will be held this weekend at Andrews AFB in Maryland just southeast of Washington D.C. The RISE ABOVE Traveling Exhibit and the Mustang will be there.Department of Defense cardholders and school groups are welcome on Friday, May 18th. The show will be open to the public on Saturday and Sunday, May 19th-20th. Hours are 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. both days.
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.