Friday, March 30, 2007

Tuskegee Airmen Awarded Congressional Gold Medal.

Tuskegee Airmen awarded Congressional Gold Medal.Washington, D.C. gave a capitol salute to the all-Black World War II fighter pilots known as the Tuskegee Airmen on 29 March 2007. In a ceremony beneath the Capitol dome, lawmakers awarded the highest civilian honor, the Congressional Gold Medal, to the Tuskege Airmen.

President George Bush, standing next to General Collin Powell, told those assembled "THe Tuskegee Airmen helped win a war, and helped change our nation for the better. On behalf of the office I hold, and a country that honors you, I salute you for the service to the United States of America".

House Speaker, Nancy Pelosi called the recognition long overdue. "With the Gold Medal today we take another in the long series of steps toward victory at home".

Louis D. Hill,90, from Los Angeles, California said that he did not mind waiting 60 for such an honor.

Hiram E. Little, 88, of Atlanta, Georgia said "I am blessed to live this long to receive a medal from the United States Congress and the President. Now there is a once-in-a-lifetime thing".

William B. Ellis, 90, whom I last saw at the Los Angeles Adventurers' Club, and who fundly refers to himself as "Wild Bill", chuckled to himself as he recalled being told that Blacks like him couldn't cut it as fighter pilots.

The first Congressional Gold Medal was awarded to George Washington by the Continental Congress in 17776. Two-thirds of the House of Representatives must co-sponsor legislation to designate recipients, and a similar proportion of the Senate must do the same before a bill can be considered.

Congressman Charles Rangel and Senator Carl Levin were the main sponsors of the Tuskegee Airmen bills.

Congressman Rangel is a veteran of the Korean War. He survived a near death experience on November 30, 1950 when his all-Black regiment was overrunn by Chinese Army Regulars who had rallied to the aid of the North Korean forces. All of the white officers had been evacuated by helicopter and had left the Black riflemen there alone to fight the Chinese. According to Congressman Rangel, by all accounts he should be dead today, but he is not. He is alive and he has written a book entitled "And I Have Not Had A Bad Day Since". He explained on the Meet The Press TV Show on April 1, 2007, that is how he chose the name for his book.

He is now the powerful chairman of The House Ways and Means Committee. He is the second congressman from Harlem to chair that committee. The first was Congressman Adam Clayton Powell. With long standing applause, Congressman Rangel told those gathered at the Capitol Rotunda "Nobody white or Black in this country can understand how God has given you so much courage from a nation that rejected you because of your color".



Blogger ichbinalj said...

The Tuskegee Airmen was the popular name of a group of African American pilots who flew with distinction during World War II as the 332d Fighter Group of the U.S. Army Air Corps.
Prior to the Tuskegee Airmen, no U.S. 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.

On March 19, 1941, the 99th Pursuit Squadron (Pursuit being the pre-WWII descriptive for "Fighter") was activated at Chanute Field in Rantoul, Illinois. Over 250 enlisted men were trained at Chanute in aircraft ground support trades. This small number of enlisted men was to become the core of other black squadrons forming at Tuskegee and Maxwell fields in Alabama -- the famed 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, and not just pilots. After basic training at Moton Field, they were moved to the nearby Tuskegee Army Air Field about 16 km (10 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.

1:34 PM  
Blogger ichbinalj said...

The 99th was ready for combat duty during some of the Allies' earliest actions in the North African campaign, and was transported to Casablanca, Morocco, on the USS Mariposa. From there, they travelled by train to Oujda near Fes, and made their way to Tunis to operate against the Luftwaffe. The flyers and ground crew were largely isolated by racial segregation practices, and left with little guidance from battle-experienced pilots. Operating directly under the Twelfth Air Force and the XII Air Support Command, the 99th FS and the Tuskegee Airmen were bounced around between three groups, the 33rd FG, 324th FG, and 79th FG. The 99th's first combat mission was to attack the small but strategic volcanic island of Pantelleria in the Mediterranean Sea between Sicily and Tunisia, in preparation for the Allied invasion of Sicily in July 1943. The 99th moved to Sicily while attached to the 33rd Fighter Group, whose commander, Col. William W. Momyer, fully involved the squadron, and the 99th received a Distinguished Unit Citation for its performance in Sicily.

The Tuskegee Airmen were initially equipped with P-40 Warhawks, later with P-47 Thunderbolts, and finally with the airplane that they would become most identified with, the P-51 Mustang.

On January 27 and 28, 1944, German FW-190 fighter-bombers raided Anzio, where the Allies had conducted amphibious landings on January 22. Attached to the 79th Fighter Group, eleven of the 99th Fighter Squadron's pilots shot down enemy fighters, including Capt. Charles B. Hall, who shot down two, bringing his aerial victory total to three. The eight fighter squadrons defending Anzio together shot down a total of 32 German aircraft, and the 99th had the highest score among them with 13.

The squadron won its second Distinguished Unit Citation on May 12-14, 1944, while attached to the 324th Fighter Group, attacking German positions on Monastery Hill (Monte Cassino), attacking infantry massing on the hill for a counterattack, and bombing a nearby strongpoint to force the surrender of the German garrison to Moroccan Goumiers.

By this point, more graduates were ready for combat, and the all-black 332nd Fighter Group had been sent overseas with three fighter squadrons: the 100th, 301st and 302nd. Under the command of Col. Benjamin O. Davis, the squadrons were moved to mainland Italy, where the 99th FS, assigned to the group on May 1, joined them on June 6. The Airmen of the 332d Fighter Group escorted bombing raids into Austria, Hungary, Poland, and Germany.

Flying escort for heavy bombers, it racked up an impressive combat record, often entering combat against greater numbers of superior German aircraft, and coming out victorious. Reportedly, the Luftwaffe awarded the Airmen the nickname, "Schwarze Vogelmenschen," or Black Birdmen. The Allies called the Airmen "Redtails" or "Redtail Angels," because of the distinctive crimson paint on the vertical stabilizers of the unit's aircraft. Although bomber groups would request Redtail escort when possible, few bomber crew members knew at the time that the Redtails were black.

While it had long been said that the Redtails were the only fighter group who never lost a bomber to enemy fighters, suggestions to the contrary, combined with Air Force records and eyewitness accounts indicating that at least a few bombers were lost to enemy fire, resulted in the Air Force conducting a reassessment of the history of this famed unit in the fall of 2006. The subsequent report, based on after-mission reports filed by both the bomber units and Tuskegee fighter groups as well as missing air crew records and witness testimony, was released in March 2007 and documented 25 bombers shot down by enemy fighter aircraft while being escorted by the Tuskegee Airmen.

A B-25 bomb group, the 477th Bombardment Group (Medium), was forming in the US but completed its training too late to see action. The 99th Fighter Squadron after its return to the United States became part of the 477th, redesignated the 477th Composite Group.

1:37 PM  
Blogger ichbinalj said...

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 March 24, 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 DUC's, 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.

1:38 PM  
Blogger ichbinalj said...

In Small Doses Getting Their Due
THE DAY. 4/2/2007 in Home ┬╗Editorial ┬╗Editorial

As much as the military brass resisted, Congress and the Roosevelt administration forced the creation during World War II of the first all-Black, Army Air Corps combat unit. The 332nd Fighter Group, more popularly known as the TUSKEGEE AIRMEN, went on to distinguish itself for its courage and successes in combat.
But it took another more than 60 years for their country to fully recognize their contributions. Last week, President Bush presented Congressional Gold Medals, one of the nation's highest honors to 300 of the surviving black aviators, most of them well into their 80s.
It was a proud moment for the men, but even prouder for the nation

7:58 PM  

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