Black History Month: The Tuskegee Airmen
February 25, 2012
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The Tuskegee Airmen were the first African-American military aviators in the United States armed forces. During World War II, African Americans in many U.S. states still were subject to the Jim Crow laws. The American military was racially segregated, as was much of the federal government. The Tuskegee Airmen were subjected to racial discrimination, both within and outside the army. Despite these adversities, they trained and flew with distinction. Primarily made up of African Americans, there were also five Tuskegee Airmen of Haitian descent.
In all, 996 pilots were trained in Tuskegee from 1941 to 1946, approximately 445 were deployed overseas, and 150 Airmen lost their lives in accidents or combat. The casualty toll included 66 pilots killed in action or accidents, and 32 fallen into captivity as prisoners of war.
The Tuskegee Airmen were credited by higher commands with the following accomplishments:
- 15,533 combat sorties, 311 missions
- 112 German aircraft destroyed in the air, another 150 on the ground
- 950 railcars, trucks and other motor vehicles destroyed
- One destroyer sunk
- A good record of protecting U.S. bombers, losing only 25 on hundreds of missions.
Awards and decorations awarded for valor and performance included:
- Three Distinguished Unit Citations
- 99th Pursuit Squadron: 30 May–11 June 1943 for the capture of Pantelleria, Italy
- 99th Fighter Squadron: 12–14 May 1944: for successful air strikes against Monte Cassino, Italy
- 332d Fighter Group: 24 March 1945: for the longest bomber escort mission of World War II
- At least one Silver Star
- An estimated one hundred and fifty Distinguished Flying Crosses
- 14 Bronze Stars
- 744 Air Medals
- Eight Purple Hearts