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USAFA celebrates Tuskegee Airmen

Tuskegee Airmen

Tuskegee Airmen celebration. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Charlie Rivezzo)

By Ray Bowden/May 2, 2018

U.S. AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. — They destroyed more than 260 enemy aircraft and 40 enemy boats during World War II.

They earned one Silver Star and 96 Distinguished Flying Cross medals, 14 Bronze Stars, 744 Air Medals and eight Purple Hearts.

They’re the Tuskegee Airmen — the focus of an annual celebration May 2 at the Air Force Academy.

“The Tuskegee Airmen are part of American history,” said retired Col. Mark Dickerson, president of the Hubert L. “Hooks” Jones Chapter of Tuskegee Airmen, Inc., based in Denver. “Their history is a history for people of all races, ethnicity and backgrounds. The message of the Tuskegee Airmen is “Don’t let other people define you.”

The Tuskegee Airmen were African-American military pilots during World War II. The group also included bombardiers, mechanics, instructors, nurses and others.

Dickerson hopes all Airmen study the history of these aviators.

“Do your homework. There’s a lot that most people don’t know, such as the agencies that kept the Tuskegee Airmen in public eye and supported this movement,” he said. “It wasn’t just the Tuskegee Airmen themselves — they had a lot of help.”

Lt. Gen. Jay Silveria, Academy superintendent, said the Tuskegee Airmen defied racism, discrimination and bias.

“They challenged the notions of diversity and displayed its value to the strength of our Air Force,” he said.

At the event, Cadet 2nd Class Brianna Murray shared her original poem “Red” with the audience, detailing how the Tuskegee Airmen inspired her as a young woman.

“They made such an impact in the world with their sense of duty and valor,” she said. “They paved the way for people like me.”

Tuskegee Airmen Facts

— Pilots were trained at Moton and Tuskegee Army Air Fields, Alabama.

— Tuskegee Airmen were nicknamed “Red Tails” and “Red Tail Angels.” Their motto was “Spit fire.”

— Capt. Benjamin O. Davis Jr. commanded the 99th Fighter Squadron at Tuskegee. He was the first African-American to be promoted to general in the Army.

— Nine hundred thirty-two Tuskegee Airmen graduated from pilot training

— They flew 15,533 sorties between May 1943 and June 1945 and destroyed 251 enemy aircraft.

— Tuskegee Airmen often flew as many as 100 missions overseas. The standard was 52 missions, so African-American pilots flew more as there were not enough replacements.

— More than 10,000 African-American men and women became Tuskegee Airmen support personnel

— Thirty-three were POWs and 66 died in combat.

— They flew more than 700 bomber-escort missions

— Combined, they received 150 Distinguished Flying Crosses, eight Purple Hearts, 14 Bronze Stars, three Distinguished Unit Citations, and 744 Air Medals and clusters

— African-American women began entering the Tuskegee Airmen program in 1946

— “Red Tails” A Hollywood movie about the Tuskegee Airmen was released worldwide in 2012