All Things Soldier: Tales Of The Red Tails

By: Ali Elizabeth Turner

In 1941, America found herself in the midst of a conflict that was epic in scope as it pertained to commitment, spilled blood, spent treasure, and changing history. Several people and groups led the charge to victory, unfettered patriotism and love for America, as well as much needed social change. Few had more tales than the “Red Tails.” Who were they? The Tuskegee Airmen, more formally known as 332nd Fighter Group and the 477th Bombardment Group of the United States Army Air Forces. They were fighter pilots, flew escorts, (hence the nickname Red Tails because of the color of the tails of their aircraft), and while all gave some, a total of 84 gave their lives between 1941 and 1946. Nearly 1,000 answered the call to fight in the skies, and fight they did. A few were white, most were black, and for my own part, waiting on General Benjamin O. Davis Jr. and other airmen when I worked in a convention hotel in Seattle remains a part of my favorite memories of being a server.

General “Benjamin O,” as he was known, commanded units that compiled a record of 15,000 sorties. They shot down 112 enemy planes, and 273 planes were destroyed on the ground. Davis Jr. personally led 67 missions, became the first African-American General of the USAF in 1954. As a captain, he became commander of the 99th Pursuit Squadron. He also was the consummate gentlemen, and made a point to express his gratitude to me for the simplest of gestures, like keeping his coffee cup full. His father, General Benjamin O. Davis Sr., though not a part of the Tuskegee legacy, was the first black general in United States History.

The Red Tails were fierce fighters, and their most daring mission was also the longest bomber escort mission to Berlin, which occurred toward the end of WWII in March of 1945. They destroyed three German ME-262 jet fighter planes, and damaged five additional jets. They were awarded the Presidential Unit Citation, which is considered to be an honor comparable to the Distinguished Service Cross, the Navy Cross, or the Air Force Cross. In 2006, the U.S. Congress voted to award 300 Red Tails with the Congressional Gold Medal, the highest award that can be given to a civilian. In 2007, President George W. Bush gave the award nearly six decades after their bravery, and took note that they fought for freedom and came home to a country that still upheld Jim Crow laws in places.

Which brings me to what gives me a lump in my throat. When injustice is present, it is easy to think it will never be dealt with, and that forever it will stand unchallenged. These guys challenged it and demolished it, and they were heroes long, long before they were ever honored for it. God bless the Red Tails who flew and fought, God bless the Tuskegee Airmen who stayed on the ground, and God bless the United States of America, both now and always.

By: Ali Elizabeth Turner