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1st Lt. Joe “Lightning” Little stated, “Nothing’s difficult. Everything’s a challenge. Through adversity to the stars. From the last plane to the last bullet to the last minute to the last man – we fight. We fight! We FIGHT!”(Red Tails Movie) (Wikipedia)
That is my favorite quote from the movie “Red Tails.” I was so excited about the movie red tails, it truly was my favorite. After learning more in-depth history, the movie could have provided more truthful facts.
The movie “Red Tails,” is the portrayal of a group of African American Men in the United States Air Force, during world war II, also known as “the Tuskegee Airmen.” The movie shows some of the obstacles the men faced in the air force, including segregation and coping with loss. However, the movie doesn’t show that much of what the men truly had to go through. The Tuskegee Airman had to face far more than the movie portrayed.
According to histryonfilm.com, “In 1944, the 332nd Fighter Group flew outdated P-40s in Italy far from the front lines. Deprived of real targets, the pilots and the ground crew are bored… The script focuses on a flight of four pilots: Samuel ‘Joker’ George, Joe ‘Lightning’ Little, Ray ‘Raygun’ Gannon and Martin ‘Easy’ Julian. The pilots fear that the Air Corps is about to shut down the group, claiming that the Tuskegee Experiment has failed. However, Lt. Col. A.J. Bullard, the group’s commander, defends the group at the Pentagon, aided by Lt. Col. Tomlinson, a white officer, who risks his career to arrange for the squadron to fly cover for Operation Shingle, a landing on the Italian coast. Aside from the institutionalized racism within the Army Air Corps, the four pilots struggle with personal issues, especially the two leads. Lightning is a daredevil, who takes increasingly dangerous risks until a romance with an Italian woman calms him down, while Easy has a drinking problem that endangers his fellow pilots. The squadron’s good performance during the landing wins Bullard an interview with general, head of the USAAF Bomber Command, who needs fighters who will defend his bombers instead of chasing victories. After Bullard guarantees that his group can cut losses by 70-80% if they get new planes, the group is issued P-51 Mustangs, probably the best American fighter plane during WWII. The Red Tails back up Bullard’s claim, refusing to bite when the Germans try to lure the fighters away from the bombers. The pilots’ determination to protect the bombers earns the gratitude of the bomber crews, which breaks down racial barriers. However, unknown to the American pilots, they repeatedly encounter the same German ace during their battles with the Luftwaffe, and he eventually claims one of their lives.( Red Tails)
But while the movie that was portrayed was great and it talked about its success it never talks about their struggle. The real story of Tuskegee Airman is amazing but they had a lot to overcome before their success. The airman had to deal with getting into the air force and becoming a pilot, and also the unfair treatment they had all while dealing with segregation.
While the in the film the men are already in the Air force one might assume it was easy. In all actuality, it was not easy for the men. Which was probably why the opening scene had the following statement: “The American negro has not progressed as far as the other sub-species of the human family. As a race, he has not developed leadership qualities. His mental inferiority and the inherent weaknesses of his character are factors that must be considered with great care in the preparation of any plan for his employment in war. . . . Due to his susceptibility to “Crowd Psychology,” a large mass of Negroes, e.g., a division, is very subject to panic. Experience has indicated that the Negroes produce better results by segregation and cause less trouble. Grouping of Negroes generally in the past has produced demands for equality, both during the war and after demobilization.’’ (US Army War college study)
You would think the movie would go more in depth about the subject, in reality, “no.” The movie barely touched that subject. So, the truth is, society didn’t think black people were even intelligent enough to be in the army nor fly a plane. Of course, this was during the Jim Crow law era. And if black people could handle everything it took to be a pilot it would discredit their assumption and make it hard to continue the segregation in the army.
African American man had a hard time getting into the air force due to the assumptions of others. The Military truly didn’t want them and didn’t believe they were capable. But that had to change, so let’s talk about how they got in.
At first, the president at the time wouldn’t allow black reporters in the white house because he didn’t want to upset the white southern. So no let’s not act as he did it out the kindness of his heart. Walter White the president of NCAAP and two black newspaper was coming through t urging and fighting for letting black men to be included. With one of the newspaper actually suing the Air Corp to let blacks train to be a pilot that wants to serve. Also, it was talk that black people will not vote democrats, forever and that the next man was promising us something better. The president then and then only urged the army to start letting blacks in and training them. On April 3, 1939, President Roosevelt approved Public Law 18, but the All Black 99th Pursuit Squadron wasn’t started until January 16th, 1941.
The 99th Pursuit Squadronwas stationed in Alabama which was known for its racism and violence towards black people. The 99th was originally formed as the Army Air Forces’ first African American fighter squadron. The men received their initial flight training in Tuskegee, which earned the nickname Tuskegee Airmen. ( 99th Pursuit Squadron- Revolvy) The Tuskegee Institute, a black college with its own airfield for training and flying. The program was highly selective and only the best of the best could get in, with high academic excellence.
According to History.com, “In addition to training pilots, the Tuskegee program trained navigators, bombardiers, instructors, aircraft and engine mechanics, control tower operators and other maintenance and support staff.” (history.com)
This created the opportunity for more jobs and apportions for black men and women. However, even with all their training, African American pilots were not allowed to fly. Also, let’s not forget that Black officers were not assigned to command positions it was instead given to Whites officers. In fact, General Henry Arnold, the commanding officer of the United States Army Air Forces stated: “Negro pilots cannot be used in our present Air Corps units since this would result in Negro officers serving over white enlisted men, creating an impossible social situation.”
But they still didn’t give up. One great leap that helps the Tuskegee airman get off the ground was when the First Lady took an hour-long flight with Charles in the Alabama skies. With so much press and pictures it helped publicize the program. Which also wasn’t shown in the movie or talked about.
In the picture above “Chief Civilian Flight Instructor Charles Alfred Anderson took Eleanor Roosevelt on an hour-long flight during her 1941 visit to the Tuskegee Institute. Here they are pictured aboard the aircraft shortly after landing. Airforce Historical Research Agency photo. (https://fdrlibrary.org/tuskegee)
It wasn’t until April of 1943 that the Tuskegee men were even considered combat ready and had their first assignment of North Africa. From then on great success came to the Tuskegee airman. The information was shown in the ending credits of the movie. (Red Tails Movie)
Also according to Reel American History, “The Tuskegee Airmen participated in 1378 combat missions and 179 bomber escort missions, in addition to eliminating an array of motor vehicles, enemy weapons, seafaring vessels, and other forms of enemy transportation. The Airmen received three Distinguished Unit Citations for their heroics above Italy and Germany. For the airmen’s’ unparalleled display of bravery and patriotism. Individual accolades comprise ninety-six Distinguished Flying Crosses, 744 Air Medals, fourteen Bronze Stars, 8 Purple Hearts, and at least one Silver Star. Over recent years, historians have made these individual and collective accomplishments the topics of many discussions and debates. There is no argument that can deduce the magnitude of the contribution of these Airmen.” ( History on Trial, Reel America History)
Although, with all their success and achievements the pilots still came home to racism and violence when the war was over. On the other hand, it did set forth a great step in the right direction. President Truman in 1948, gave the Executive Order 9981, which directed equality of treatment and opportunity in all American Armed Forces, and in time, this led to the end of racial segregation in the U. S. military which still stands today.
Maybe the movie Red Tails was more directed about the story during the war and not the story about black airmen getting into the air force. Hopefully, future movies would talk about the struggle and hardship they had to go through. The airman had to deal with getting into the air force and becoming a pilot, also the unfair treatment they had all while dealing with segregation. That it’s a story that I truly hope gets told in the movies for everyone to know.
99th Pursuit Squadron- Revolvy. Retrieved from www.revolvy.com/topic/99th Pursuit Squadron&item_type=topic
- Franklin D Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum Retrieved from https://fdrlibrary.org/tuskegee
- History. Com Retrieved from https://www.history.com/topics/world-war-ii/tuskegee-airmen
- History on Trial, Reel America History. Retrieved from http://digital.lib.lehigh.edu/trial/reel_new/films/list/0_75_6
- National Museum of the United States Air forces, Tuskegee Airmen. Retrieved from https://www.nationalmuseum.af.mil/Portals/7/documents/education/tuskegee_airmen_lesson_plan.pdf
- Red Tails. Retrieved from http://historyonfilm.com/red-tails/
- Red Tails Movie. from personal memory of the movie
- Wikipedia contributors. (2018, November 4). Red Tails. In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved from https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Red_Tails&oldid=867266148
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