“TUSKEGEE AIRMEN – A PROUD HERITAGE” RECOUNTS HISTORY OF BLACK AIRMEN IN WORLD WAR II
Museum of Aviation and Museum of Aviation Foundation officials and members of the Major General Joseph A. McNeil Chapter of the Tuskegee Airmen, Incorporated officially opened an upgraded exhibit in December of 2011 on the all-black flying unit of World War II known as the Tuskegee Airmen. Former United States Ambassador to the United Nations Andrew Jackson Young was the guest speaker at a dinner following the opening of the exhibit which was attended by several “original” Tuskegee Airmen and active duty airmen from Robins Air Force Base.
The exhibit, originally located in Hangar One, was moved to the new Scott Exhibit Hangar and upgraded with a new large digital mural scene of Moton Field, Alabama where the Tuskegee Airmen trained during World War II. Aircraft mechanics are shown working on a BT-13 Valiant trainer aircraft and displays show a typical barracks room and a “Link” trainer used to train cadets on flight instruments. A 1942 wartime film on the Tuskegee Airmen narrated by Ronald Reagan is shown and another large TV screen shows Tuskegee pilot interviews and narratives. The exhibit is the largest exhibit of its kind in the entire Department of Defense.
The exhibit recounts the struggle of black Americans who were subject to racial discrimination during World War II, both within and outside the military. After President Franklin D. Roosevelt ordered the creation of a flying unit for black Americans in the Army Air Corps in 1941, a program was set up in Tuskegee, Alabama, to train black pilots and later support officers in operations, meteorology, intelligence, engineering and medicine. Enlisted members were trained to be aircraft and engine mechanics, armament specialists, radio repairmen, parachute riggers, control tower operators, policemen, administrative clerks and other skills required in a flying squadron.
In four years, a total of 994 pilots and 14,000 support people were trained. They served with distinction in combat operations in North Africa, Sicily and Italy. Pilots became part of the 332nd Fighter Group, composed of the 99th, 100th, 301st and 302nd African-American fighter squadrons. Known as the Red Tails because of the distinctive red paint on their planes, they were credited with shooting down 110 enemy aircraft and flew more than 15,000 sorties. Throughout the war, more than 100 pilots were killed or missing in action. Of those, more than 30 were prisoners of war.
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