Tuskegee Airmen During the Second World War, a special project is begun by the US Army Air Corps to integrate African American pilots into the Fighter Pilot Program. Known as the Tuskegee Airman for the name of the airbase at which they were trained, these men were forced to constantly endure harassement, prejudice, and much behind the scenes politics until at last they were able to prove themselves in combat.
It all comes home for me as a self admittedly rednecked White bomber pilot says in the final briefing: “I have a crew whose lives are my responsibility. If it’s all the same to you Sir, I want the 332nd to take me to Berlin and back”.
That cinematic statement is a long overdue Thank You from America to the pilots of the 332nd Fighter Group, both the living and the dead, for a job well done.
I personally owe the Tuskegee Airmen a sincere vote of thanks, as does EVERY Black person who has ever had the honor of having flown a military aircraft for the United States. The Tuskegee Airmen blazed the trail that made it possible for others to follow.
I’ve met a couple of the original Tuskegee pilots, and I’ve heard their stories. The discrimination and bigotry shown in the film was NOTHING compared to the realities that they faced day after day. Even after the war, as decorated fighter pilots, the bigotry they faced on their return to the US was unbelievable.
One old fighter pilot told me of how he had just come ashore from the troopship in full uniform, and was almost immediately arrested by the military police in New York City on a charge of impersonating an officer and wearing unauthorized decorations; the MP just KNEW that there was no such thing as a Black fighter pilot.
The Tuskegee Airmen Another told me of his postwar attempts to gain employment as an airline pilot as the lines geared up for the bright future that they saw coming. Ex military pilots with half his experience who were White were being snapped up without question… but after much beating around the bush, he was finally told that even as impressive as his credentials were, there was no place for him in the industry. He recalled that the airline representative that told him was so ashamed that he couldn’t look him in the eye as he said it.
Lawrence Fishburn’s portrayal of Lt. Hannibal Lee is probably typical of the men who were part of this, the SECOND “Tuskegee Experiment”. They were college graduates, the best of the best, who had survived a system deliberately designed to eliminate them from flight training.
Andre Braugher’s testimony (as Col. Ben O. Davis Jr.) before the Congressional committee says it all when he asks what he, as a Black soldier, should think of a nation that despises him even as he lays down his life to defend it… a nation that asks him to fight for principles that don’t apply to HIM personally.
The film has technical flaws… every film does… but beyond them it tells a story that, by design or negligence, has been ignored by American history for almost a half century.