Red Tails’ Film Pays Tribute to Tuskegee Airmen

WASHINGTON — Seg­re­ga­tion dur­ing World War II spilled over into U.S. mil­i­tary ranks, but an all-African-Amer­i­can fight­er pilot crew formed with­in the Army Air Corps made a major impact in help­ing to break down racial bar­ri­ers.

Pres­i­dent Barack Oba­ma and First Lady Michelle Oba­ma host Tuskegee Air­men at a show­ing of the movie “Red Wings” at the White House, Jan. 13, 2012. Cicero Sat­ter­field is in the sec­ond row, far right. White House pho­to
Click to enlarge

Sev­en­ty years lat­er, and as Nation­al African Amer­i­can His­to­ry Month begins, film direc­tor George Lucas’ just-released movie, “Red Tails,” is shar­ing the jour­ney of these sto­ried avi­a­tors, the Tuskegee Air­men. Pres­i­dent Barack Oba­ma and First Lady Michelle Oba­ma invit­ed sur­viv­ing Tuskegee Air­men to a Jan. 13 pre­miere screen­ing of the movie at the White House, a week before its offi­cial open­ing. Cicero Sat­ter­field, 92, was among the for­mer Tuskegee Air­men who attend­ed the event with his con­tem­po­raries, all now in their 80s and 90s. 

Sat­ter­field enjoyed the movie, say­ing it “por­trayed what we did.” The mes­sage the film car­ries, how­ev­er, was of para­mount impor­tance to him. 

“ ‘Red Tails’ is impor­tant to edu­cate the pub­lic about what the Tuskegee Air­men did dur­ing World War II as avi­a­tors who pro­tect­ed Amer­i­can bombers fight­ing the Ger­mans,” he said. Sat­ter­field added that he is struck by the impres­sion the movie is mak­ing on peo­ple who were unaware of the sig­nif­i­cant role the Tuskegee Air­men played dur­ing World War II

“No mat­ter what,” he said, “the Tuskegee Air­men should be rec­og­nized for their accom­plish­ments.” Sat­ter­field not­ed that today’s young gen­er­a­tion seems to be very inter­est­ed in the his­to­ry of the suc­cess­ful Tuskegee mission. 

Sat­ter­field joined the Army Air Corps — which evolved into today’s Air Force — at age 21 and was cho­sen as a char­ter mem­ber of the Tuskegee Air­men in 1941. He became an assis­tant avi­a­tion crew chief, and at the rank of cor­po­ral, he trained airmen. 

It was July 19, 1941 when the Defense Department’s fore­run­ner, the War Depart­ment, began train­ing African-Amer­i­can mil­i­tary pilots and air­crews at Alabama’s Tuskegee Insti­tute and near­by Tuskegee Army Airfield. 

The first class­es of Tuskegee Air­men were trained as fight­er pilots for the 99th Fight­er Squadron, and head­ed for com­bat duty in North Africa. Their mis­sion was to escort bomber air­craft over strate­gic tar­gets to help in reduc­ing the heavy loss­es these crews were expe­ri­enc­ing. Addi­tion­al pilots were assigned to the 332nd Fight­er Group, which also includ­ed the 100th, 301st and 302nd fight­er squadrons. 

By the war’s end, near­ly 1,000 men grad­u­at­ed from pilot train­ing at Tuskegee, and almost half of them went on to com­bat assign­ments over­seas. Some of the air­men went on to reach the gen­er­al offi­cer ranks, includ­ing Daniel “Chap­pie” James, who became the first black U.S. four-star gen­er­al in 1975. 

Dur­ing the course of the war, the Tuskegee Air­men flew more than 15,000 sor­ties and fought in the skies over North Africa, Sici­ly and Europe in P‑40 Tom­a­hawks, then P‑39 Air Cobras, then P‑47 Thun­der­bolts, then final­ly, P‑51 aircraft. 

As they amassed more than 200 com­bat mis­sions, the Tuskegee Air­men dis­tin­guished them­selves by nev­er los­ing a sin­gle bomber to ene­my forces — a record unmatched by any oth­er fight­er group. 

The long list of mil­i­tary awards earned by the Tuskegee Air­men is a tes­ta­ment to their suc­cess. Col­lec­tive­ly, they earned more than 744 Air Medals, 100 Dis­tin­guished Fly­ing Cross­es, 14 Bronze Star Medals, eight Pur­ple Hearts, a Sil­ver Star, a Legion of Mer­it and three Pres­i­den­tial Unit Citations. 

As the Tuskegee Air­men dis­tin­guished them­selves both indi­vid­u­al­ly and as a group, they helped to pave the way for Pres­i­dent Har­ry S. Truman’s 1948 exec­u­tive order inte­grat­ing the armed forces. 

In May 2006, Pres­i­dent George W. Bush signed a bill into law award­ing the Tuskegee Air­men the Con­gres­sion­al Gold Medal, Con­gress’ high­est civil­ian award. 

The road to that suc­cess was­n’t always smooth for the Tuskegee Air­men, who bat­tled seg­re­ga­tion and prej­u­dice on the ground as they con­front­ed ene­my forces in the air. 

“Some [peo­ple] thought we could­n’t do it, but we did­n’t sub­ject our­selves to that,” Sat­ter­field said. “We accom­plished what they said we couldn’t.” 

(Don­na Miles of Amer­i­can Forces Press Ser­vice con­tributed to this article.) 

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs) 

Face­book and/or on Twit­ter

Team GlobDef

Seit 2001 ist im Internet unterwegs, um mit eigenen Analysen, interessanten Kooperationen und umfassenden Informationen für einen spannenden Überblick der Weltlage zu sorgen. war dabei die erste deutschsprachige Internetseite, die mit dem Schwerpunkt Sicherheitspolitik außerhalb von Hochschulen oder Instituten aufgetreten ist.

Alle Beiträge ansehen von Team GlobDef →