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 25, 2012

The Jug

     The Tuskegee Airmen flew P-40 Warhawks, P-39 Aircobras and P-47D Thunderbolts before the faster and more agile P-51 Mustangs became available.  The Tuskegee-trained pilots only flew the P-47s for a short time in the field, but it was a memorable airplane for the Airmen and other USAAF pilots for a number of reasons.

     Affectionately known as the “Jug” or a “barrel with wings,” the Thunderbolt could accurately be described as a stocky airplane.  At 17,000 pounds, it weighed 5,000 pounds more than the Mustang.  The “Fatty From Farmingdale” (the site of one of three production plants) had compact wings with rounded tips and a huge 18-cylinder radial engine.  Its rugged construction – including self-sealing fuel tanks and armor around the cockpit - meant it could take a lot of punishment, making it a pilot favorite. 
     Amazingly agile for its weight and design, it could get the job done in a dogfight.  What really made it stand out as a fighter was its ability to dive at high speeds.  Tuskegee Airman Joe Gomer commented on this attribute when he gave his talk at a Minnesota library in February.  He said, "If you had to quickly go from a high altitude to a lower one in order to engage with or escape from the enemy, its ability to do a controlled dive was really something to experience.”
     Another thing that set the Thunderbolt apart was that it had eight – count ‘em, eight – machine guns, four on each wing.  Those guns were put to good use on June 24, 1944 when a group of eight Tuskegee Airmen from the 332nd Fighter Group sank a German destroyer in an Italian port, using just their machine guns.  This is the only known instance of P-47s sinking an enemy ship using only machine gun fire.
     Other armament included rockets and bombs mounted under the wings.  All of this destructive power was very effective in strafing runs against trains and troops.
     The United States and many other countries in both the European and Pacific theaters of World War II used the Thunderbolt to good effect.  The USAAF eased away from the Thunderbolt as the military jet age began with the Korean War.  This picture of six restored P-47s is from the 1970s.  There was no photo attribution but the photographer certainly deserves applause for taking such an impressive shot.

The modern A-10 twin-engine military jet is called the Thunderbolt II, but its nickname is the “Warthog.”  It also looks a bit ungainly but, like its predecessor, gets the job done.

Memorial Day
     We are getting ready to enjoy another Memorial Day weekend.  Hang the flag proudly and go to a parade if you’re lucky enough to have one scheduled close by. Tell your kids how this weekend is not about sales and bar-b-ques; it’s about remembering those men and women who put on a U.S. military uniform and went away to war because they wanted to protect the American way of life that was built on individual freedom.  Their selflessness and sacrifice must never be forgotten.

Where Are The Mustang and Traveling Exhibit This Weekend?
     In Culpeper, Virginia, that’s where.  They’re participating in a free CAF “open hangar” weekend at the local airport.  If you’re in the area, c’mon out and support this effort – you’ll be glad you did.

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, May 18, 2012

Walterboro, SC's Connection To The Tuskegee Airmen

     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  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 Show
The 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

Friday, May 11, 2012

Crush Caps and Toggliers

    Do you know what a “crush cap” is?  How about a “togglier?”  These are two interesting terms I ran across this week so thought today’s blog would be on descriptions related to WWII aircraft and personnel.
     Let’s start with “crush cap” because I can relate to this.  When my Dad graduated from flight school in Texas in 1944, the USAAC took his picture, chest up, in his full uniform and another picture where he’s wearing his radio headset. I swear he looks like he’s 15 instead of the ripe old age of 20. (I think there was one more “official” photo, but the pictures are in Minnesota and I’m here in Florida so I can’t check.)  Anyway, in the first picture, the top of Dad’s visor cap has very crisp edges because it was so new.  The caps had stiffeners inside to keep that sharp edge. 
     Now, fast forward to when he was actually flying his beloved B-26 over France and Germany in early 1945.  Here’s a picture of him (2nd from left) with the whole crew.  His hat is starting to look a little rounded at the edges – he’d (like so many others) had removed the stiffeners. By the time his wartime flying was done, that cap was beautifully “crushed” by his radio headset.
     The crew of the B-26 “Jolly Roger” was part of the 8th Army, 323rd Bomber Group, 455th Squadron.  (That’s not the Jolly Roger behind them – wrong number and no painted Skull & Crossbones.)  Left to right:

                 Pilot - 1st Lt Mieczwslaw (Mathew) S. Pietrowicz
                 Copilot - 2nd Lt. Calvin L. Jansen (a.k.a. "Dad)
                 Bombardier - 1st Lt. William Y. Austin  
                 Flight Engineer - S/Sgt. John S. Michalowski
                 Radioman - S/Sgt. Thomas G. Kennon
                 Tail Gunner - S/Sgt. Edward S. Tyszkiewicz

     I’m not sure if 1st Lt. Austin, who had to sit in the B-26’s nose to do his job, was a full bombardier or a toggliers at that time.  Originally, each B-26’s bombardier used the famed Norden bombsight to determine when to drop their airplane’s bomb load.  At some point, the 8th Air Force brass ordered that all 36 bombers in a Squadron formation drop their bombs at the same time.  The bombardier in the lead airplane determined when this should happen (talk about a pressure situation!).  When he dropped his airplane’s bombs, the other bombardiers simply “toggled” their bomb bay door switches to drop their loads, too.  Hence they became “toggliers” instead of true “bombardiers.”
     Here’s a picture of another B-26 bombardier, William R. Ozburn, sitting in the nose of his airplane.  That’s where the bombardiers sat to do his job.  The view would have been great, but talk about being exposed to the enemy and the cold!  
     I hope you have a good weekend, doing what you enjoy doing here in this land of the free because of the brave.

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, 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