A new film created by students at Endicott College in Beverly, Mass., celebrates the heroism and history of the Tuskegee Airmen, the all-black fighter pilot unit that blazed trails as the first black combat pilots in U.S. history during World War II.
The six-minute documentary, released in time for Black History Month in February, reveals a new dimension to the pilots, whose members were required to fly upwards of 100 missions, far more than the typical 50 of their white counterparts, according to the student filmmakers.
The airmen are credited with flying 1,578 combat missions over Germany, Africa, and Italy during World War II. They were one of the most effective units in the U.S. Army Air Corps, predecessor to the U.S. Air Force.
In an interview with 100-year-old Col. Charles E. McGee (USAF Ret), who remains a pilot and is shown flying and landing a private jet during the film, it is revealed that the squadron was not expected to be successful as the Army said blacks didn’t have the mental capacity or moral fortitude to be pilots, according to McGee.
McGee flew 409 combat missions spanning World War II, Korea, and Vietnam during his 30-year Air Force career and went on to become commander of the Richard-Gebuar Air Reserve Base, the first black commander of a stateside Air Force Wing.
In the film, he recalls that in 1941 Eleanor Roosevelt visited the group in Tuskegee, Alabama, which was heavily segregated at the time. It was only when the First Lady said the pilot with whom she flew could fly like any other pilot that the group was deemed combat ready. Previously, no white commander would take responsibility for the Tuskegee flyers.
Despite the obstacles, McGee says in the film, “If you give up hope, you’re lost. If you’re looking at the negative, you’re looking in the wrong direction.”
The Endicott students who produced the film were Hannah Daigle, Jessica Giesing, and Michael Rotiroti. The team, with their professor, Steve Liss, traveled to Bethesda, Maryland, to interview McGee and to conduct research on the Tuskegee Airmen. They did all planning, filming, editing and post-production.
“Working on the Tuskegee airmen video was an inspirational and eye-opening experience. I was given the chance to meet and speak with a member of American history, as well as edit a mini documentary based around his life. This opportunity has opened many doors, professionally and artistically,” said Rotiroti.