Six decades after completing their World War II mission and coming home to a country that discriminated against them because they were black, the Tuskegee Airmen are getting high honors from Congress.
Who Were The Tuskegee Airmen?
The Tuskegee Airmen were dedicated, determined young men who enlisted to become America's first black military airmen. They came from every section of the country, with large numbers coming from New York, Washington, Los Angeles, Chicago, Philadelphia and Detroit.
In June 1941, the Tuskegee program officially began with formation of the 99th Fighter Squadron at the Tuskegee Institute. The unit consisted of an entire service arm, including ground crew, and not just pilots. After basic training at Moton Field, they were moved to the nearby Tuskegee Army Air Field.
What Challenges Did They Face?
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 U.S. Army Air Corps. Nevertheless, the Tuskegee Airmen continued to have to fight racism. Their combat record did much to quiet those directly involved with the group (notably bomber crews who often requested them for escort), but other units were less than interested and continued to harass the Airmen.
What Was Their Record?
The Airmen's success during World War II -- not losing a single bomber to enemy fire in more than 200 combat missions -- is a record unmatched by any other fighter group.
Have The Airmen Ever Received Awards?
The 99th Squadron distinguished itself by being awarded two Presidential Unit Citations (June-July 1943 and May 1944) for outstanding tactical air support and aerial combat in the 12th Air Force in Italy, before joining the 332nd Fighter Group.
The 332nd Fighter Group was awarded the Presidential Unit Citation for its longest bomber escort mission to Berlin, Germany, March 24, 1945. It destroyed three German ME-262 Jet fighters and damaged five additional jet fighters without losing any of the bombers or any of its own fighter aircraft to enemy fighters.
In 2006, the Tuskegee Airmen were collectively awarded the Congressional Gold Medal in recognition of their service and sacrifice to the United States during World War II. The official ceremony was held on March 29, 2007, in Washington.
How Many Airmen Served?
According to Tuskegee University, 15,000 men and women shared the "Tuskegee Experience" from 1942-1946.
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