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1 Winter 1993 Number 27 $5.00

2 3 0 A L A B A M A H E R I T A G E : W I N T E R

3 ALABAMA HERITAGE:WINTER

4 In the years before World War II, many African Americans attempted to join the Army Air Corps but were summarily rejected because of their race. IN THE EARLY MORNING hours of November 16, 1944, Capt. Luke Weathers, a young fighter pilot from Memphis, Tennessee, strolled out onto an airstrip in northern Italy and checked the condition of his plane. Weathers had made precautionary testing of his aircraft a part of his daily routine during his flight training days in Alabama, and he had continued the practice throughout his active duty assignments in North Africa and Europe. Today his mission was to escort B-17 bombers, known as "Flying Fortresses," from bases in northern Italy to targets in the Munich area of southern Germany. Most bombers, even the heavily armed B-17s, were vulnerable to enemy fighter aircraft; fighter pilots had to provide "close cover" escort on bombing missions such as these. Escort duty was uneventful for Weathers and his fellow fighter pilots, Capt. Melvin Jackson and Capt. Louis Purnell, until eight Messerschmidt 109s (ME 109s) attacked a crippled bomber returning from the mission. All three American pilots peeled off from their positions, returned the fire, and Weathers hit one of the ME 109s. Suddenly he noticed red balls of aircraft fire arcing over the canopy of his cockpit. He was being attacked from the rear. Jackson and Purnell fell in behind the attacking plane but had to abandon their pursuit when other Messerschmidts began firing on them as well. Instead of pursuing Jackson and Purnell, the Germans concentrated on Weathers' plane, closing in from all directions in a deadly tactic that Americans called the German "wolf pack." The odds were heavily in the Germans' favor, but Captain Weathers maintained his composure. "It looked like they had me," Weathers remembered later, "so I decided to follow the falling [ME 109] plane. I made a dive, came out of it, and looked back. One plane was still on my tail. I was headed back toward Germany and didn't want to go that way. I chopped my throttle and dropped my flaps to cut my speed quickly. The fellow overshot me and this left me on his tail. He was in range so I opened fire. A long burst and a short burst [of gunfire] sent him tumbling to the ground." Weathers' acrobatic and highly dangerous maneuver allowed him to escape unharmed. Luke Weathers, Melvin Jackson, and Louis Purnell were among the first black military aviators in American history. Trained in Alabama at Tuskegee Institute, now Tuskegee University, they were members of the Tuskegee airmen, among the most highly decorated pilots in the European theater of war during World War II. PRIOR TO THE WAR, few African Americans had the opportunity to learn to fly. Despite the odds against them, several black Americans managed to gain not only a pilot's license but a few headlines as well. "Brave Bessie" Coleman, who learned to fly in France, became the first black woman in the United States to hold a pilot's license. Coleman barnstormed across the country in the 1920s, thrilling air show audiences until her death in a tragic crash in In October 1932, James Herman Banning and Thomas Allen (called "suntanned editions of Lindy" by the Pittsburgh Courier) became the first black Americans to complete a transcontinental flight. One year later, Charles Alfred "Chief Anderson and Dr. Albert E. Forsythe became the first African Americans to make a round-trip transcontinental flight. In the years before World War II, many African Americans attempted to join the Army Air Corps (the precursor to the U.S. Air Force) but were summarily rejected because of their race. Determined to prove their flying skills, two young black aviators, Chauncey E. Spencer and Dale L. White, rented an old Lincoln-Paige biplane in Oaklawn, Illinois, and flew to Washington, D.C. After a number of complications, Spencer and White finally arrived in the capitol and were introduced to Rep. Everett Dirksen of Illinois and Sen. Harry Truman of Missouri. Truman was reportedly surprised to learn that the air corps excluded African Americans. "If you guys had the guts to fly this thing to Washington," he said, "I've got guts enough to see that you get what you are asking!" It would not be easy. The War Department's policy of racial discrimination was based on a 1925 War College study which stated that black men, due to their "smaller cranial size," lacked the ability to perform as well as white men and, consequently, were "incapable of flying airplanes." ALABAMA HERITAGE:WINTER

5 In 1932 James Herman Banning!, above) and Thomas C. Allen became the first black aviators to complete a transcontinental flight. Time: 41 hours and27 minutes. Affectionately called the "Flying Hobos," the pair bought a used aircraft and set off with less than $100for expenses. (Thomas C. Allen, courtesy National Air and Space Museum, Smithsonian Institution) Right: Opportunities for African American aviators expanded dramatically in 1939, when blacks gained entrance to the Civilian Pilot Training Program. Pictured: Linkwood Williams, civilian flight instructor at TuskegeeArmy Air Field. (James 0. Plinton, Jr., courtesy NASM, SI) WHEN WAR BROKE OUT in Europe in 1939, President Roosevelt asked Congress to create a federally funded Civilian Pilot Training Program (CPTP) as a preparedness measure. The program was to be administered by the Civil Aeronautics Authority (CAA), which, operating through colleges and universities, promoted interest in military service during national emergencies. African Americans such as Dr. Ormande Walker of Wilberforcc University and Arthur Howe of Hampton Institute began pressing members of Congress and President Roosevelt to include black colleges and universities in the new aviation classes. The Senate Military Affairs Committee debated the question of black participation in the Army Air Corps during the early months of 1939 and, eventually, a compromise was struck, stipulating that one of the civilian pilot training schools would be earmarked as a training site for African Americans. Tuskegee Institute in Alabama was selected as the site, but Public Law 18, signed by President Roosevelt on April 3, made no explicit statement about admitting black civilian pilots to the air corps. Thus, the Army Air Corps continued its exclusion of black pilots. ALABAMA HERITAGE:WINTER

6 The army was convinced that any effort to undermine the system of segregated training would instigate race riots and hobble the war effort. Above: First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, an avifi supporter of equal opportunity for black Americans, joined Tuskegee's chief flight instructor C. Alfred "Chief A ndersonfor an aerial tour of the airfield. Left: Col. Benjamin 0. Davis, Jr., pictured in the cockpit of his P-51 Mustang, commanded the Ninety-ninth Fighter Squadron and, later, the 332d Fighter Group. Davis' skill as an administrator did much to dispel hostility toward black participation in military aviation. (Courtesy NASM, SI) FROM THE BEGINNING, the program at Tuskegee was a success. Ninety-one of one hundred students qualified for civil pilot's licenses during the school's first year of operation, and by 1940 Tuskegee had become the largest black pilot training program in the country. Keeping up with the need for airfields was a problem. For the first few months, from January through March 1940, student pilots used the municipal airport in Montgomery, forty miles away, because the landing strip at Tuskegee was not completed. As the program expanded, Tuskegee pilots made use of their own airstrip as well as airfields in Montgomery and at Alabama Polytechnic College (now Auburn University). Finally, aided by funds that First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt helped raise, Tuskegee built a second airstrip in August That same summer, Frederick Douglass Patterson, president of Tuskegee Institute, received word from the U. S. secretary of war that Congress had appropriated $1,091,000 for the construction of an army air base at Tuskegee. Black cadets would now have the opportunity to receive basic, advanced, and combat training and to earn flight wings and commissions. Hangars, repair shops, classrooms, laboratories, administrative facilities, an infirmary, dining h a l l, firehouse, and dormitories were to be constructed to provide a self-sustaining and fully functional air base. Tractors began leveling hills and uprooting trees on July 23, 1941, in preparation for laying the runways. ALABAMA H E R I T A G E : W I N T E R

7 Ralph Jones, one of the base support personnel, arrived in October before construction was complete and described the scene: We arrived at a little train station called Cheehaw in Alabama, which described the place adequately. From Cheehaw we were trucked to the base... really what was to become the base, for on our arrival we immediately dubbed it tent city. There were no permanent buildings for the Army personnel and the airstrip was still under construction. Charles B. \\all "Buster had one problem, if it could be considered as such. He was totally without fear." Capt. George Roberts The first class of cadets transferred to Tuskegee Army Air Field in November 1941, less than one month before the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. IN THE YEARS BEFORE World War II, African Americans had challenged the U.S. military policy of racial segregation. In 1938, while the nationally circulated black newspaper, the Pittsburgh Courier, campaigned for extended opportunities for blacks in the military, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) encouraged the War Department to integrate its personnel in proportion to the country's total population of black Americans, thereby creating more opportunities for blacks in the military, including the air force. Within the black community, the debate over how to bring about equality of opportunity in the military was intense. Many African Americans, like Tuskegee's President Patterson, supported a separate training facility for blacks at Tuskegee. But others, like Howard University Law School Dean William Henry Hastie, opposed the formation of a segregated unit, claiming it was discriminatory and ultimately restrictive of opportunities. The government remained firm: Segregation of the races was the policy of the U.S. military. After the passage of the Selective Services Act of 1940, President Franklin D. Roosevelt announced that opportunities for blacks in the army would be maintained in proportion to the number of African Americans in the population at large, and that pilot, mechanic, and technical training for blacks in the air corps would be increased. The policy of racial segregation, however, remained unchanged. Segregating the air corps proved far more difficult than segregating infantry regiments. Pilots often had technical problems, even on maneuvers, and were forced down far from their home base. When a black pilot was forced to spend time on a base that had no facilities for ON JULY 2, 1943, Charles B. "Buster" Hall, Ninety-ninth Fighter Squadron, became the first black pilot to shoot down an enemy aircraft. As part of the Sicilian campaign, he piloted one of six P-40s assigned to escort sixteen B-25s in the bombing of enemy-occupied Castelvetrano airfield. "It was my eighth mission," Hall later told an interviewer, "but the first time I had seen the enemy close enough to shoot at. I saw two FW-190s following the Mitchells just after the bombs were dropped. I headed for the space between the fighters and bombers and managed to turn inside the Jerries. I fired a long burst and saw my tracers penetrate the second aircraft. He was turning to the left, but suddenly fell off and headed straight into the ground. I followed him down and saw him crash. He raised a big cloud of dust." Upon Hall's return to the air base, the squadron awarded him a rare "ice-cold bottle of Coca-Cola." According to fellow pilot Louis Purnell: "We chilled the Coke in a one-gallon fruit juice can packed with ice. It was in the shade of a grove of olive trees that the bottle of Coke probably the only one in the Mediterranean theater of operations came to a well-deserved end." Hall also received the Distinguished Flying Cross and commendations from Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower. (Elmer D. Jones, courtesy NASM, SI) ALABAMA HERITAGE:WINTER

8 3 6 A L A B A M A HERITAGE:WINTER 1993

9 ALABAMA H E R I T A G E r W I N T E R 1993

10 . Calmer Palmer flew 158 missions, probably the highest number of sorties flown by a Tuskegee-trained pilot in World War II. IN JULY 1944, LT. WALTER PALMER, a graduate of Tuskegee Army Air Field's tactical fighter school, was flying protective cover for bombers in Europe with the One Hundredth Fighter Squadron of the 332d Fighter Group. We were "about five thousand feet above the bombers," Palmer recalled, "as they prepared for their bomb run [in southwestern Germany]....We noticed 'bogeys' attempting to break through our protective formation in order to get to the bombers. As they approached, we engaged them. I got on the tail of a FW-190 and squeezed the trigger. My first victory was recorded on film. After pulling back up, I came up under another [Focke-Wulf]. Since he did not see me, I closed the distance until I was within range and gave the trigger another squeeze; however, nothing happened because my guns had jammed. I foolishly decided in the anxiety of battle that the only thing left to do was to chop off his empennage with my propeller. I didn't stop to think my plane would go down as well. "At any rate,...[the German pilot] decided to head into the mountains I reasoned he might know his way into those mountains and I did not. So I headed home and performed my 'Victory Roll' over the field so my crew chief and the others of my crew would know to get ready for the celebration. Several members of our squadron got victories that day." (Courtesy Walter J. Palmer) blacks, base commanders had difficulty carrying out the rules of segregation. These same rules presented problems in personnel deployment, mass mobilization, and aerial combat. After African Americans were permitted to become pilots, another problem arose: Who would command them? Not only did the War Department need a regular army officer who was black, but a black officer who could fly airplanes. Between 1920 and 1940, only one black man had graduated from the United States Military Academy at West Point and had served with distinction, according to the War Department Capt. Benjamin O. Davis, Jr., class of 1936 and son of the army's only black general. Davis was selected to command the first class of cadets at Tuskegee, a class that would form the core of the first black fighter squadron in the air corps, the Ninety-ninth Fighter Squadron. Davis' superiors assumed he would learn to fly and he did, although he was never as skillful a pilot as others in the squadron. In fact, his instructors joked that Davis banked his biplane trainer with a precision seen only on the West Point parade ground. But more importantly, Davis was a regular line officer who understood army procedures and knew how to motivate men. Preflight training at Tuskegee lasted five grueling weeks. From five in the morning until lights out at ten o'clock, the cadets drilled and studied first aid, radio, codes, aircraft identification, military law, courtesy, and army organization. New cadets also had to withstand hazing from the upperclassmen. One cadet, Walter J. Palmer, wrote that about one-fifth of his class of fifty cadets dropped out, because "nothing was worth that much physical and mental harassment." Lt. Charles H. DeBow, Jr., who graduated with the first class of cadets at Tuskegee Army Air Field, recalled his training at Tuskegee for a writer from American Magazine in Primary flight training was supervised by the army, DeBow said, "but the actual instructors were colored civilians trained under the Civilian Aeronautics Authority (CAA)." Basic flight training began in November 1941, when Davis took over command of the cadets, and advanced training commenced in January With this new training came new airplanes, like "the Big Vultee BT-13s, with 400 horsepower engines, 130 mph cruising speed and plenty of new problems." DeBow was astonished at every new piece of aircraft that arrived. "Those ships were something," he said, particularly the 38 ALABAMA HERITAGE:WINTER 1993

11 Within the black community, the debate over how to bring about equality of opportunity in the military was intense. Graduating class, Tuskegee Army Air Field, June 1942: (Left to right) William A. Campbell, Willie Ashley, Langston Caldwell, Herbert Clark, George Boiling, Charles B. Hall, Graham Mitchell, Herbert Carter, Louis Purnell, Graham Smith, Allen G. Lane, Spann Watson, Faythe McGinnis, James T. Wiley, and Irwin Lawrence. (Courtesy Herbert E. Carter) "North American AT-6As with their 600 horsepower engines, 160 mph cruising speed, and 30 calibre machine guns." DeBow, Ben Davis, George Roberts, and other pilots spent four days at Eglin Field, Florida, shooting at ground targets. They not only qualified but set a better record than a squad of British cadets before them. Also, DeBow claimed, "[We] practiced night formation flying with our wing tips just six inches apart." WHILE FLIGHT TRAINING continued with great success, other aspects of life at Tuskegee Army Air Field presented difficulties. Despite the War Department's original plan to run the base with black personnel exclusively, the command structure, for the most part, was white and remained a continuing source of frustration to black officers throughout the war. All military rules regarding segregation of the races were observed, which meant that white officers had no officially sanctioned contact with blacks except during duty hours. The army was convinced that any effort to undermine this system of segregated training would instigate race riots and hobble the war effort. Other problems arose as white communities surrounding the base became displeased about the influx of black pilots, administrators, and support personnel. Racial tensions flared. As a consequence, morale was low when Capt. Noel F. Parrish, a native of Lexington, Kentucky, arrived in May 1941 to take over as base commander. In order to reduce tensions in the community, Parrish immediately sought to make the base so self-sufficient and attractive that personnel would not want to leave. Parrish assigned to Capt. Eldridge Williams the task of creating a morale-building physical fitness program. Williams organized football, basketball, baseball, and tennis teams that competed on a collegiate level with other black teams throughout the country. Maj. Fred Minnis, Education, Recreation, and Morale Officer, held local talent reviews, provided the latest films, and brought a variety of celebrities to Tuskegee, including Ella Fitzgerald, Lena Home, Louis Armstrong, Joe Louis, Langston Hughes, Eddie "Rochester" Anderson, The Camel Caravan orchestra and singers, and opera stars Grace Moore and Richard Crooks. ALABAMA H E R I T A G E : W I N T E R

12 Above: In August 1943, Maj. GeorgeS. "Spanky" Roberts, a graduate of the first class at Tuskegee Army Air Field, assumed command of the Ninety-ninth Fighter Squadron, which skillfully supported Allied landings atanzio, January - February, Right: A primary task of the 33 2d Fighter Group was to protect Allied bombers, like this B- 24, in bombing raids over central and eastern Europe. (U.S. Air Force, courtesy NASM, SI). Sgt. James T. Moseley, a pianist and composer from Muskogee, Oklahoma, organized an orchestra for dances, The Imperial Kings of Rhyme. Young ladies from local colleges including Talladega College, Atlanta University, Spelman College, and, of course, Tuskegee Institute were invited to attend, with transportation and overnight quarters provided. On Sunday afternoons, Capt. Ulysses G. Lee, a former literature professor at Howard University, and Cpl. John Lucas, a classical pianist, presented musical programs, often featuring hymns and spirituals by the post chapel choir and marches by the post band. The big attraction on Sunday was "Blue Hour," a popular dance at the Officers' Club, where officers and their women friends frequently took turns as vocalists. GRADUATION DAY at Tuskegee saw the convergence of people from all over the country to witness the culmination of months of intensive training. Louis G. Hill, who had completed flight training and was stationed at Tuskegee Army Air Field, remembered seeing "carts and wagons loaded with families and scrubbed children [who] lined the roadway to Tuskegee Institute.... It takes a lot of courage to succeed," he recalled over forty-five years later, and "it takes hope to fulfill dreams. Out of all the things that happened in my life, that scene, backgrounded by the red Alabama clay, stands out boldly in my mind." The guest speaker at the first graduating class of pilots at Tuskegee, Gen. George E. Stratemeyer, re- 40 ALABAMA HERITAGE:WINTER 1993

13 By 1940 Tuskegee had the largest black pilot training program in the country. ment of their young lives and a time of great pride for their families. After graduation, Lt. Charles DeBow took the train to Indianapolis with his parents. Years later, he recalled their trip: /'// never forget that ride. Dad kept finding an excuse to walk down the aisle to the water cooler. On the way back to our seats, he'd find an excuse to start a conversation with somebody, anybody, about "those colored boys who just got their wings at Tuskegee." Then he'd add casually, as if it had just occurred to him, "You know, there's one of them right here in this car." Then he'dpoint to me and say, "There. That's Lieutenant DeBow. He's my boy." minded the graduates that their training was viewed as an experiment, not only by the War Department but by American society. Failure meant letting themselves down, of course, but worse, it meant dashing the hopes of all African Americans: You will furnish the nuclei of the Ninety-ninth and One Hundredth Pursuit Squadrons. Future graduates of this school will look to you as old pilots. They will be influenced profoundly by examples which you set. Therefore, it will be of the highest importance that your service be of a character worthy of emulation by younger officers. Despite the responsibilities and challenges handed them that day, it was for many the most exciting mo- OVERSEAS ASSIGNMENTS did not come as easily or as quickly as the Tuskegee airmen hoped. In fact, all African American soldiers had trouble getting assignments abroad because the War Department was unable to agree on a policy for overseas use of black soldiers. Some Tuskegee pilots and ground crews began to call themselves the "Lonely Eagles," a variation of Charles Lindbergh's nickname, "Lone Eagle." As late as the fall of 1944, the Pittsburgh Courier-was still bemoaning the War Department's racial discrimination and noting the frustration of blacks at Tuskegee. As an example, the Courier mentioned Capt. Algernon Sparks, a black warrant and finance officer who claimed to have been "passed over by a white lieutenant with less experience." After one year at Tuskegee, Captain Sparks summed up his contributions to the war effort in the title of a song: "Time on My Hands." He also noted a vast improvement in his Ping- Pong game. Like many other men at Tuskegee, the frustrated Sparks whiled away the hours at a time when the army was in dire need of men on the battlefield. EVENTUALLY, of course, many African American troops did see action overseas. In early 1942, the War Department sent black troops to Liberia to defend against the threat of a Nazi advance and to build an air base. The War Department also considered using A L A B AM A H E R I T AG E : W I N T E R

14 Herbert E. Carter "The mechanics and pilots of the Ninety-ninth were the best in the Mediterranean theater of operations." Herbert E. Carter LT. COL. HERBERT E. CARTER, USAF (Ret.), a former pilot and squadron aircraft maintenance officer trained at Tuskegee Army Air Field, recently told an interviewer that the unsung heroes of the war were the "men [who] worked ten to twelve hours daily to ensure that their aircraft were operational." Such involvement contributed enormously to the team spirit that developed between pilots and ground crews. "To them, a missed mission or an aborted flight was an unfavorable reflection on themselves and their flight. On the other hand, a flight that resulted in air-to-air victories by the pilot, or air-to-ground target destruction, was a celebration." The mechanics and technicians trained at Tuskegee were also called on "to retrieve aircraft that had crashlanded for whatever reasons," often behind enemy lines. They either salvaged the aircraft wreckage on-site or tried to retrieve the whole aircraft. When Carter returned to the United States in July 1944, after seventyseven missions (rotation eligibility back to the states was only fifty missions), he and the other pilots regretted "leaving the mechanics and technicians of the Ninetyninth, knowing they were there for the duration." Above: Capt. Herbert E. Carter presents Crew Chief of the Month award to Sgt. Willie McNair. Sgt. Lewis H. Sobers looks on. (Courtesy Herbert E. Carter) the Ninety-ninth Fighter Squadron in Liberia to search for German U-Boats along the west African coast, but the Allied invasion of North Africa removed the German threat to Liberia. It did not, however, decrease the need for tactical fighters in the Mediterranean theater of war. Secretary of War Henry L. Stimson visited the air field in Tuskegee in February 1943 to discuss possible overseas assignments for the "Black Birdmen," or Schwarze Vogelmenshen as the Germans would later call them with Captain Parrish, who repeatedly appealed to the War Department for activation of his fliers. One early rumor asserted that the Ninety-ninth was being shipped out to North Africa, but Tuskegee's pilots had to endure another month of drills on aerial combat, formation, and night flying before the squadron was ordered to Camp Shanks, New York, for embarkation. The four hundred men of the Ninety-ninth Fighter Squadron were initially assigned to an airfield in French Morocco. In June 1943, they received their first combat assignment, a strafing mission against the heavily fortified island fortress of Pantelleria. On the morning of June 9, a squadron of planes led by Charles "A-Train" Dryden was attacked by twelve Focke-Wulfs and Messerschmidts acting as escorts for eighteen bombers en route to attack Allied forces in Tunisia. Tuskegee airmen historian Robert A. Rose later summed up Dryden's account of the action:... the Jerries peeled off from 12,000 feet and dived through the Warhawks [U.S. aircraft] at better than 400 MPH. Two Focke-Wulfs caught [Lee] Ray ford's right wing. Spann Watson came from Ray ford's right and fired a burst at the two Germans. TheNazis flipped and broke away. Willie Ashley had lost considerable altitude, having gone into a spin, but upon recovering he found a Focke-Wulf crossing his sights. He got in a raking burst, and the German went into aflat smoking glide to the sea. Other enemy planes turned and retreated toward Sicily while Ashley pursued. Finally, enemy ground fire forced him back. WAS THE FIRST of many combat sorties for the Ninety-ninth Fighter Squadron, which, along with other Tuskegee-trained squadrons in the 332d Fighter Group, helped destroy the German war machine across central and eastern Europe. They flew hundreds of missions over European territory and were part of the Allied invasion forces in Sicily, southern France, and Greece. 42 ALABAMA HERITAGE:WINTER 1993

15 The Tuskegee airmen proved that no discrepancy existed between the effectiveness of properly trained black and white soldiers. The base commander at Tuskegee Army Air Field reviews aviation cadets and their Vultee BT-13 basic trainers. (USAF Photo Collection, Negative No A.C., courtesy NASM, SI) By March 7, 1945, American forces had discovered the Remagen Bridge intact and had begun crossing the Rhine River into the heart of Germany. On March 24, the Tuskegee airmen played a pivotal role in this advance as the Fifteenth Air Force attempted a sixteenhundred-mile attack on Berlin led by Col. Benjamin O. Davis, Jr., and the 332d Fighter Group, the cadre of which was formed by the Ninety-ninth Fighter Squadron. The target was the Daimler-Benz Tank Works, and the mission was designed as a diversionary effort to draw off German fighters which might otherwise have been deployed against the Allied airborne landings north of the Ruhr Valley. On that same day, the 332d Fighter Group, flying cover for B-17 bombers, encountered several jet-propelled Messerschmidt 262 fighters. The Tuskegee airmen claimed three of the eight German jets destroyed. For successfully escorting the B-17s and exhibiting "outstandingly aggressive combat technique," the 332d Fighter Group was awarded the Distinguished Unit Citation. During the last few months of the war, Tuskegee served as a training facility for a host of programs primarily for African Americans. But few, if any, of these trainees would see combat in World War II. On April 25, 1945, less than two weeks before the war in Europe ended on May 7, the 332d flew its last mission, chalking up four more victories over enemy aircraft while on a photo reconnaissance mission over Prague. When hostilities ended in the Pacific, President Harry Truman announced a two-day holiday. The military and civilian personnel at Tuskegee Army Air Field spent their vacations enjoying the base facilities. Lucky Millinder and his orchestra entertained the largest crowd ever at the post amphitheater. After the war, operations continued at Tuskegee until June 29,1946, when the last class of pilots graduated and was transferred to other units. Many of the men and women who trained at Tuskegee never used their skills because opportunities for African Americans were limited in a segregated army. The demobilization that followed soon after the war also forced many into becoming reservists. Most of those who managed to retain their active duty status ended up at Lockbourne Air Base, near Columbus, Ohio. The Tuskegee airmen, however, had every reason to celebrate. They had proven to American society that no discrepancy existed between the effectiveness of properly trained black and white soldiers. Perhaps their success in action during World War II helped change attitudes towards integration in the American military; certainly their success brought about a strong sense of pride among those who served. Two years after the last Tuskegee airman graduated, President Truman ordered the desegregation of the armed forces, and the Defense Department announced the end of mandated segregation in the U.S. military. Wherever they were, the Tuskegee airmen must have cheered. j H] ALABAMA HERITAGE:WINTER

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