Posted on: 07.9.2018 at 03:00 p.m.
James C. Roberts
President & Founder
American Veterans Center
On Aug. 12, 1944, 16 American P-51 fighters raced toward the southern coast of France, approaching a French harbor city that was flanked on its coast by German radar encampments. Allied troops were set to storm the beaches there in the coming days as a part of Operation Dragoon: the liberation of the south of France.
Their mission was perilous, yet it was imperative. More than 150,000 troops on hundreds of ships would soon arrive, and the success of this strategic move could only be ensured through the destruction of the radar installations.
The P-51s cut through the sky, now slashed with the ripping red strokes of German anti-aircraft rounds. Nothing but the skill, experience and grit of the pilots stood between them and certain death.
Indeed, the pilots of the 332nd fighter group possessed these qualities in abundance. Three years earlier, 13 recruits reported for training in Tuskegee, Ala., which held an army air field in the heart of the Jim Crow South. Within, black pilots were exclusively trained as part of a military trial program, allowing them the chance to prove they were every bit as talented as their white brothers in arms.
This program was initiated by Roosevelt’s White House in order to test the efficacy of having black airmen in the field, a group that had hitherto been absent from the United States military’s aviators. The men trained there knew that they were making history, and that their performance would decide the fate of black aviators for years to come.
These 13 recruits formed a new unit called the 99th Pursuit Squadron, better known as the Tuskegee Airmen. These men would become the first African American combat pilots in United States history.
After the war, the legend of the Tuskegee Airmen grew. The military was eventually desegregated, and new American leaders fought to see change and true freedom for all Americans. This struggle was inspired in no small part by a band of brothers, who more than 75 years ago took to the skies to fight for the American dream, and to prove that self-evident truth, that all men are created equal.