The Tuskegee Airmen never lost to enemy fighters a bomber they were escorting. That has been accepted as fact for 61 years, since the end of World War II.
On Dec. 10, however, Tuskegee Airmen Historian William F. Holton told the Montgomery (Ala.) Advertiser that Air Force records show at least a few bombers escorted by the famed Red Tail P-51s were shot down by enemy planes. Retired Air Force Lt. Gen. Russell C. Davis, Tuskegee Airmen president, told the Associated Press that he will no longer claim in speeches that the group never lost a bomber under its escort.
“I’m going to drop it until we can get this thing clarified,” he said. “We’ve got some homework to do, obviously.”
Holton and Daniel Haulman of the Air Force Historical Research Agency, who came to the same conclusion independently, said their sole interest is in making sure the group’s history is as accurate as possible.
Holton has been the association’s historian for “about a decade.” From the group’s headquarters in Virginia, he said he began leafing through old mission reports after being told by one of the Tuskegee Airmen pilots that they really did lose some bombers.
The Tuskegee Airmen were the first black pilots in what then was the U.S. Army Air Corps. Some 1,000 pilots and about 19,000 support personnel, ranging from mechanics to nurses, trained at Tuskegee Institute in Alabama, from which the group took its name. The fighter pilots, first flying P-47s, then P-51s, shot down more than 100 German aircraft during World War II. Many went on to set outstanding records in the Korean and Vietnam wars. Tuskegee pilots also flew B-25 bombers.
Some surviving Tuskegee Airmen are offended by the findings of Holton and Haulman. All, doubtless, are disappointed, but most of those interviewed agreed that the record should be accurate.
On a more positive note, The Red Tail Project is restoring a rare P-51C of the type flown by the Tuskegee Airmen. It is intended to be a “museum without walls” as it tours the country, said Stan Ross, project coordinator.
Ross recently announced a “Rivet Sponsorship” to raise funds for the restoration. Anyone contributing $30 or more gets a Rivet Certificate signed by one of the veteran Tuskegee Airmen.
“The Red Tail Project is not about an airplane; the airplane is a tool we use to tell a story,” said Doug Rozendaal, Red Tail Project director. “We will continue our work to tell the story of the Tuskegee Airmen and what they represent.”
The Red Tail Project has a goal of $2 million to support its education program and to rebuild the P-51C, the program’s symbol.
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