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Tuskegee Airman Passes

They came from far and near, to prove that they had the mettle to be tested, tried and true in order to be considered men worthy of national respect. Their only true obstacle was race. History has now recorded and celebrated them as the much heralded, Tuskegee Airmen, famously known as the “Red Tails”. Recently, Allied nations celebrated the 75th Anniversary of the D-Day Invasion. WWII has somewhat of a nostalgic appeal, mainly because as many historians will conclude, it was the last major war that made any sense, with a clear objective, a clear means of gauging progress and victory. It was fought by the “greatest generation. Men and women who were gripped in the choke hold of international poverty such as the Great Depression. The US Military closely resembled that of a third rate military, far beyond that of its Axis counterparts Germany and Japan. The attack on Pearl Harbor had more of a psychological impact than the visible charred and twisted metal that lay burning in the Pacific waters of Hawaii. A nation consisting mainly of the young and poor would have to reach deep within and muster a sense of an undefeatable will to win.

One such man was that of legendary Tuskegee Airman Lt. Colonel who passed away this past June 21st at the age of 99. During WWII, he flew 142 missions in the iconic Red Tail P-51 Mustang and would also serve in the Korean and Vietnam Wars. In the months leading up to his death, he still visited area museums such as the Palm Springs Air Museum and signed autographs and memorabilia for children, aviation historians, and aviation hopefuls. With friends and family at his bed side, he died of sepsis. His legend will surely live on through the current and future military aviators. As of May 2019, there were 12 of 355 single-engine pilots who served in the Mediterranean theater operation during World War II still alive. His legacy will also continue to live on through motion pictures such as 2012’s “Red Tails” and HBO’s 1994 film, “The Tuskegee Airmen”.

WWII, particularly in the European Theater of Operations (ETO) is such a nostalgic and epic war that it is the most cinematic war to date as seen in movies such as Saving Private Ryan, Band of Brothers, Fury, Miracle at St. Anna’s, and even comic book to film motion pictures such as Wonder Woman and Captain America. So nostalgic WWII is that the US Army has now authorized a return to the WWII era “Pinks and Greens” uniform from that era. Every year at air shows across the nation, people pay hefty prices to ride on the iconic planes from that era. The connection that many have is that their fore parents had a connection the type of aircraft in some capacity.

Although most of them have passed away, they embodied the true will of the warrior’s ethos and forsake everything when the nation called. What separated the Tuskegee Airmen was that due to racial bigotry, they were initially denied the opportunity to fly and fight, as it was believed that black men possessed neither the mental, nor physical aptitude to command advanced piston fighters. However through the Double V Campaign and those sympathetic to seeing black men serve, and fly eventually the Tuskegee Experiment yielded results by graduating extremely competent and professional aviators. According to the Tuskegee Airmen Historical Museum in Tuskegee, Alabama, there were 992 Tuskegee Airmen who graduated the Tuskegee Army Air Field between 1942 and 1946.

What ultimately distinguished men such as Lt. Colonel Friend is that although they desired to fight for their country, their country did not desire to fight for them. However, seeking to defeat racism at home and abroad in the face of Nazism and Fascism, they ultimately did garner a double victory. Even after the War over the skies of Europe, Lt. Colonel Friend and his fellow birdmen did not return to a heroes’ welcome, but in fact a more heightened sense of racial antagonism. A few years later, after the “Incident at Selfridge Field”, the tide would begin to turn in favor of black men in the military, ultimately leading to the complete desegregation of the US Armed Forces.

With our steins lifted to the heavens, we are eternally grateful to the men such as Lt. Colonel Friend for their gallants efforts and exploits against the best that the German Luftwaffe had to offer. Proving that military aviation was just as much a viable combat arm as the infantry, artillery, and armor, the Army Air Corps would become the US Air Force in 1947. When piston aircraft gave way to the jets of the Korean War and ultimately supersonic aircraft of Vietnam, Lt. Colonel was there to meet such transformations. His legend will forever be promoted and inspire the next wave of winged warriors. In the spirit of the 332 Fighter Group, down with the Axis might. “To the last plane, to the last bullet, to the last minute, to the last man……WE FIGHT !” Until we meet again Sir, slow salute. Blue skies forever.

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