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Tuskegee Airmen

Tuskegee Airmen is the term used to describe the black fighter pilots of the 99th Pursuit Squadron, later incorporated into the 332nd Fighter Group, who fought during World War II in the U.S. Army Air Corps that were trained at Tuskegee Army Air Field, Tuskegee, Alabama. After more than fifty years, the history of the Tuskegee Airmen is still quite obscure. The name refers to the young Black pilots who received flight training at Tuskegee Army Air Field in Alabama during and shortly after World War II. The Tuskegee Army Air Field was the only training facility for Basic and Advanced Flight Training for Black pilots of the U.S. Army Air Force.

Because of racial discrimination, African American servicemen were not allowed to learn to fly until, with the advent of World War II, pressure was brought on the War Department to utilize Blacks as officers and pilots in the then U.S. Army Air Corps.

In 1940, President Franklin D. Roosevelt ordered the Air Corps to build an all-Negro flying unit, and over 966 Black African American college graduates were selected for what the Army called "an experiment" - the creation of the segregated 99th Fighter Squadron, which trained in an airfield adjacent to Alabama's Tuskegee Institute. The experiment involved training Black pilots and ground support members who originally formed the 99th Pursuit Squadron, quickly dubbed the Tuskegee Airmen.

The Squadron was activated on March 22, 1941, and re-designated as the 99th Fighter Squadron on May 15, 1941. On September 2, 1941, CPT Benjamin O. Davis, Jr. became the first Black American to solo an aircraft as an officer in the U.S. Army Air Corps. In 1943, 450 Black fighter pilots under the command of Col. Benjamin O. Davis, Jr. (who was to become the U.S. Air Force's first Black General on October 27, 1954) entered into combat in the European Theater of Operations, North African and the Mediterranean. On July 4, 1944, the 99th was joined with three other African American Squadrons, the 100th, 301st and the 302nd, to form the 332nd Fighter Group.

The Airmen exemplified courage, skill and dedication in combat, flying 15,553 sorties and completing 1578 missions during the war. Not one of the bombers they escorted was lost to enemy fighters. Among their accomplishments 111 German airplanes destroyed in the air and another 150 on the ground; and 950 railcars, trucks and other motor vehicles were destroyed. The Tuskegee Airmen returned home with 150 Distinguished Flying Crosses, 744 Air Medals, 8 Purple Hearts, 14 Bronze Stars. By the end of WWII, almost 1000 African Americans had won their wings at Tuskegee Army Air Field. Their record was not without losses, however, with 66 Tuskegee Airmen killed in action.

Despite their record, on April 1, 1945, a document called Regulation 85-2 was imposed by base commander Colonel Robert Selway, calling for strict segregationist policies. When Colonel Selway ordered all Black officers to sign a statement that they had read and accepted Regulation 85-2, 101 officers refused in what became known as the Freeman Field Mutiny. The Tuskegee Airmen was deactivated in May 1946, but its success would contribute to the eventual integration of the United States military and the eventual desegregation of the U.S. Armed Forces in 1948 when President Truman issued Executive Order 9981, calling for "equality of treatment and opportunity" in the armed forces.

Not until August 12, 1995, did the Air Force clear the service records of the Tuskegee Airmen involved in the Freeman Field Mutiny, vindicating their stand for equality.

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