The Red-Tail Tuskegee Airmen rose to become one of the most prominently respected air squadrons of World War II. As the first African American aviators of the United States armed forces, their impact on the success of the U.S. Army Air Corps and their missions is indisputable. These men rose at a time when segregation was still an everyday occurrence in the states and the military as well. African American men had been attempting to join the ranks of the military and train as pilots since World War I, but were continually refused.
Changes in Civil Rights
As the years progressed, strong civil rights leaders such as Walter White (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People), A. Philip Randolph, a labor union leader and Judge William H. Hastie were able to secure funds to be appropriated for the training of African American pilots. The funds were deflected by the War Department to civilian flight schools that were open to training black Americans. However, the opportunities this opened lead to the decline in the number of men signing up for the all black units that had been previously established as these men were now more interested in becoming pilots.
As training began, these men proved themselves by converting their intentions into action. Their first dive-bombing and staffing mission in January of 1944 set the precedence for the success of this group of men. The African American pilots were first assigned to the P-40 Warhawk. Other WWII aircraft used by the Tuskegee Airmen included P39 Airocobra, the P-47 Thunderbolt and eventually the P-51 Mustang.
The Tuskegee Airmen gained their nickname “Red Tails” after they began painting the tails of their P-51 Mustangs red. The statement these red tails made went far beyond the paint on their planes. The Tuskegee Airmen of WW II compiled very impressive statistics in their 1,578 missions. They were awarded a total of 95 Distinguished Flying Crosses, three distinguished unit citations, one known Silver Star, 14 Bronze Stars and eight Purple Hearts to name a few.
Even today, the WWII Tuskegee Airmen Red Tails continue to be rightfully honored and remembered. Their training airfield has been converted into the Tuskegee Airmen National Historic Site and the 99th Flying Training Squadron continues to honor the red tails by also painting the tails on their T-1A Jayhawk aircrafts red. No doubt the Tuskegee Airmen and their red tails made a positive contribution that directly affected the history of World War II.