Tuesday, September 18, 2007

The Tuskegee Airmen

The Tuskegee Airmen (IPA pronunciation: [təˈski.gi]) was the popular name of a group of African American pilots who flew with distinction during World War II as the 332nd Fighter Group of the US Army Air Corps.

Prior to the Tuskegee Airmen, no US military pilots had been African American. However, a series of legislative moves by the United States Congress in 1941 forced the Army Air Corps to form an all-black combat unit, much to the War Department's chagrin. In an effort to eliminate the unit before it could begin, the War Department set up a system to accept only those with a level of flight experience or higher education that they expected would be hard to fill. This policy backfired when the Air Corps received numerous applications from men who qualified even under these restrictions.

The US Army Air Corps had established the Psychological Research Unit 1 at Maxwell Army Air Field, Alabama, and other units around the country for aviation cadet training, which included the identification, selection, education, and training of pilots, navigators and bombardiers. Psychologists employed in these research studies and training programs used some of the first standardized tests to quantify IQ, dexterity, and leadership qualities in order to select and train the right personnel for the right role (bombardier, pilot, navigator). The Air Corps determined that the same existing programs would be used for all units, including all-black units. At Tuskegee, this effort would continue with the selection and training of the Tuskegee Airmen.

In June 1941, the Tuskegee program officially began with formation of the 99th Fighter Squadron at the Tuskegee Institute, a highly regarded university founded by Booker T. Washington in Tuskegee, Alabama. The unit consisted of an entire service arm, including ground crew. After basic training at Moton Field, they were moved to the nearby Tuskegee Army Air Field about 16 km (ten miles) to the west for conversion training onto operational types. The Airmen were placed under the command of Capt. Benjamin O. Davis Jr., one of the few African American West Point graduates. His father Benjamin O. Davis, Sr. was the first black general in the US Army.

Because of prevalent racism of the day a hearing was convened before the House Armed Services Committee in Washington D. C. to determine whether the Tuskegee Airmen "experiment" should be allowed to continue. The committee accused the Airmen of being incompetent — based on the fact that they had not seen any combat in the entire time the "experiment" had been underway. To bolster the recommendation to scrap the project, a member of the committee commissioned and then submitted into evidence a "scientific" report by the University of Texas which purported to prove that Negroes were of low intelligence and incapable of handling complex situations (such as air combat). The majority of the Committee, however, decided in the Airmen's favor, and the 99th Pursuit Squadron soon joined two new squadrons out of Tuskegee to form the all-black 332nd Fighter Group.

By the end of the war, the Tuskegee Airmen were credited with 109 Luftwaffe aircraft shot down, a patrol boat run aground by machine-gun fire, and destruction of numerous fuel dumps, trucks and trains. The squadrons of the 332nd FG flew more than 15,000 sorties on 1,500 missions. The unit received recognition through official channels and was awarded a Distinguished Unit Citation for a mission flown 24 March 1945, escorting B-17s to bomb the Daimler-Benz tank factory at Berlin, Germany, an action in which its pilots destroyed three Me-262 jets in aerial combat. The 99th Fighter Squadron in addition received two DUCs, the second after its assignment to the 332nd FG. The Tuskegee Airmen were awarded several Silver Stars, 150 Distinguished Flying Crosses, 14 Bronze Stars and 744 Air Medals.

In all, 992 pilots were trained in Tuskegee from 1940 to 1946; about 445 deployed overseas, and 150 Airmen lost their lives in training or combat. The "experiment" was a sucess. In fact, far from failing as originally expected, a combination of pre-war experience and the personal drive of those accepted for training had resulted in some of the best pilots in the US Army Air Corps. Find out more about this part of America's history and hear some of the pilots stories at: http://tuskegeeairmen.org/

Research gathered at: www.wikipedia.org

Now here's a poem you can fly to the moon with:

I Mean, Really Really In Love

OK. I've had it up to here with the notion that an
Air France flight could seriously blow through Lily
Marlene strong enough to cause anything but a
version of life where things happen in reverse.
Mask. Ghost. Footprints from a welded impostor.
So change the channel already. Find a show where
the angel-butch double-agent loses the key to her
safety deposit box & turns like a Venetian blind.
Or better yet, let's tune-in to an episode of dying
for faith where the ever impossible request torches
explicitly on the piano top. I want to hear a severe
melody try holding its breath under water while life
comes and goes in a red dress split up one side. I
want to be skull-hung just before the gargoyle in its
late-forties with jet black hair & a five o'clock shadow
surveys the filth from above then decides to put the
whole bar under house arrest just to make a point.

This poem first published online at: http://www.cosmoetica.com/
Visit my ezine: http://www.concelebratory.blogspot.com/
and mucic blog: http://www.medleymakersant.blgopspot.com/


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