Tuskegee Airmen--Text Version
One Airman's Story
Role of Tuskegee Institute
Civilian Pilot Training
Training for War
"Chief" Charles Anderson
Airmen in Combat
Moton Field
Support Personnel
Benjamin O. Davis

Overview  Top

In spite of adversity and limited opportunities, African Americans have played a significant role in U.S. military history over the past 300 years. They were denied military leadership roles and skilled training because many believed they lacked qualifications for combat duty. Before 1940, African Americans were barred from flying for the US military. Civil rights organizations and the black press exerted pressure that resulted in the formation of an all African-American pursuit squadron based in Tuskegee, Alabama, in 1941. They became known as the Tuskegee Airmen.

"Tuskegee Airmen" refers to all who were involved in the so-called "Tuskegee Experiment," the Army Air Corps program to train African Americans to fly and maintain combat aircraft. The Tuskegee Airmen included pilots, navigators, bombardiers, maintenance and support staff, instructors, and all the personnel who kept the planes in the air.

The military selected Tuskegee Institute to train pilots because of its commitment to aeronautical training. Tuskegee had the facilities, and engineering and technical instructors, as well as a climate for year round flying. The first Civilian Pilot Training Program students completed their instruction in May 1940. The Tuskegee program was then expanded and became the center for African-American aviation during World War II.

The Tuskegee Airmen overcame segregation and prejudice to become one of the most highly respected fighter groups of World War II. They proved conclusively that African Americans could fly and maintain sophisticated combat aircraft. The Tuskegee Airmen's achievements, together with the men and women who supported them, paved the way for full integration of the US military.

On November 6, 1998, President Clinton approved Public Law 105-355, which established the Tuskegee Airmen National Historic Site at Moton Field in Tuskegee, Alabama, to commemorate and interpret the heroic actions of the Tuskegee Airmen during World War II. The new site will contain a museum and interpretive programs at the historic complex at Moton Field as well as a national center based on a public-private partnership. For information on the Tuskegee Airmen oral history project, contact Interim Project Coordinator Bob Blythe, E-mail: Bob_Blythe@nps.gov, or the Superintendent, Tuskegee Institute National Historic Site, E-mail: Willie_Madison@nps.gov

One Airman's Story  Top

Robert Marshall Glass
Captain, US Air Force
December 17, 1920 - January 24, 1955

Already a qualified pilot, Robert Marshall Glass was one of the highly skilled and committed young men to join the 332nd Fighter Group of the Tuskegee Airmen. Glass was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, where he attended public school. He graduated from Carnegie Institute of Technology with a degree in mechanical engineering.

Glass signed up at Tuskegee Army Air Field on January 28, 1943, and attended cadet school at Tuskegee. Charles "Chief" Anderson was one of his flying instructors at Tuskegee and Benjamin O. Davis, Jr., was his commanding officer.

Glass served his country in World War II and during the Korean conflict. He was a senior pilot with the Distinguished Flying Cross, Air Medal, EAME Campaign medal, American Campaign Medal, Distinguished Unit Citation and the National Defense Service medal. His last duty station was at Wright Air Development Center, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base. At the time of his death, Captain Glass was at the Air Command Staff School, Maxwell Air Force Base. His name is inscribed on the Memorial Honor Roll of the Air Force, Air Force Aid Society, Washington, D.C.

Role of Tuskgee Institute  Top

The military selected Tuskegee Institute to train pilots because of its commitment to aeronautical training. Tuskegee had the facilities, and engineering and technical instructors, as well as a climate for year round flying. The first Civilian Pilot Training Program students completed their instruction in May 1940. The Tuskegee program was then expanded and became the center for African-American aviation during World War II.

Civilian Pilot Training  Top

The few African Americans who learned to fly in the early 1900s were self-taught or trained overseas. After Charles Lindbergh’s 1927 flight, African-American interest in flying increased. Aviation clubs and schools were formed.

The U.S. government sponsored African-American flight training in 1939 with the Civilian Pilot Training (CPT) Act. Administered by the Civilian Aeronautics Association (CAA), the Act authorized selected schools to offer CPT primary flight training for pilots in case of a national emergency. Schools for African-American candidates included Tuskegee Institute, Howard University, Hampton Institute, and the Coffey School of Aeronautics. The government paid for ground and flight school instruction. Colleges provided instructors, physical examinations for potential students, and transportation to approved flying fields. Tuskegee Institute originally offered elementary or primary CPT courses. In July 1940, the CAA authorized Tuskegee Institute to provide advanced CPT courses.

Training for War  Top

Tuskegee, Alabama, became the focal point for the training of African-American military pilots during World War II. Tuskegee Institute received a contract from the military and provided primary flight training while the army built a separate, segregated base, Tuskegee Army Air Field (also referred to as the Advanced Flying School) for advanced training. Support personnel were trained at Chanute Field in Illinois.

The first class, which included student officer Capt. Benjamin O. Davis, Jr., began training on July 19, 1941. Rigorous training in subjects such as meteorology, navigation, and instruments was provided in ground school. Successful cadets then transferred to the segregated Tuskegee Army Air Field to complete Army Air Corps pilot training. The Air Corps oversaw training at Tuskegee Institute, providing aircraft, textbooks, flying clothes, parachutes, and mechanic suits while Tuskegee Institute provided full facilities for the aircraft and personnel. Lt. Col. Noel F. Parrish, base commander from 1942-46, worked to lessen the impact of segregation on the cadets.

Many cadets got their primary flight instruction at Moton Field, Tuskegee, from Charles A. "Chief" Anderson. The first class of five African-American aviation cadets earned their silver wings to become the nation's first black military pilots in March 1942. Between 1941 and 1945, Tuskegee trained over 1,000 black aviators for the war effort.

Charles "Chief" Anderson  Top

Known as Charles "Chief" Anderson by the pilots he trained, Charles Alfred Anderson was a pioneer of African-American aviation. A commercial pilot, he and Dr. Albert E. Forsythe were the first African Americans to fly a transcontinental trip from Atlantic City to Los Angeles and back in 1933. The two later flew a goodwill flight to Cuba, Jamaica, Haiti, and six other Caribbean countries in their plane named The Spirit of Booker T. Washington.

Anderson taught civilian pilot training courses at Howard University, Washington, D.C. In 1940, he joined the faculty at Tuskegee Institute as head of the Civilian Pilot Training (CPT) program. Chief Anderson gave Eleanor Roosevelt a plane ride when she visited Tuskegee in 1941. She was determined to counter the view that African Americans couldn't fly. Their photograph was seen all over the U.S. Mrs. Roosevelt's plane ride gave an enormous boost to black aviation.

The successful CPT under Anderson's leadership was a major factor in the Army Air Corps decision to establish a primary training program at Tuskegee. As chief flight instructor at Tuskegee, he supervised primary flight training for 1,000 African-American pilots at Moton Field.

Airmen in Combat  Top

The 99th Fighter Squadron was sent to North Africa in April 1943 for combat duty. They were joined by the 100th, 301st, and 302nd African-American fighter squadrons. Together these squadrons formed the 332nd fighter group. The transition from training to actual combat wasn't always smooth given the racial tensions of the time. However, the Airmen overcame the obstacles posed by segregation. Under the able command of Col. Benjamin O. Davis, Jr., the well-trained and highly motivated 332nd flew successful missions over Sicily, the Mediterranean, and North Africa.

Bomber crews named the Tuskegee Airmen "Red-Tail Angels" after the red tail markings on their aircraft. Also known as "Black" or "Lonely Eagles," the German Luftwaffe called them "Black Bird Men." The Tuskegee Airmen flew in the Mediterranean theater of operations. The Airmen completed 15,500 missions, destroyed over 260 enemy aircraft, sank one enemy destroyer, and demolished numerous enemy installations. Several aviators died in combat. The Tuskegee Airmen were awarded numerous high honors, including Distinguished Flying Crosses, Legions of Merit, Silver Stars, Purple Hearts, the Croix de Guerre, and the Red Star of Yugoslavia. They never lost a bomber to enemy fighters. A Distinguished Unit Citation was awarded to the 332nd Fighter Group for "outstanding performance and extraordinary heroism" in 1945.

The Tuskegee Airmen of the 477th Bombardment Group never saw action in WWII. However, they staged a peaceful, non-violent protest for equal rights at Freeman Field, Indiana, in April 1945.

Their achievements proved conclusively that the Tuskegee Airmen were highly disciplined and capable fighters. They earned the respect of fellow bomber crews and of military leaders. Having fought America's enemies abroad, the Tuskegee Airmen returned to America to join the struggle to win equality at home.

Moton Field  Top

Moton Field was the only primary flight facility for African-American pilot candidates in the U.S. Army Air Corps (Army Air Forces) during World War II. It was named for Robert Russa Moton, second president of Tuskegee Institute. Moton Field was built between 1940. 1942 with funding from the Julius Rosenwald Fund to provide primary flight training under a contract with the U.S. military. Staff from Maxwell Field, Montgomery, Alabama, provided assistance in selecting and mapping the site. Architect Edward C. Miller and engineer G. L. Washington designed many of the structures. Archie A. Alexander, an engineer and contractor, oversaw construction of the flight school facilities. Tuskegee Institute laborers and skilled workers helped finish the field so that flight training could start on time.

The Army Air Corps assigned officers to oversee the training at Tuskegee Institute/Moton Field. They furnished cadets with textbooks, flying clothes, parachutes, and mechanic suits. Tuskegee Institute, the civilian contractor, provided facilities for the aircraft and personnel, including quarters and a mess for the cadets, hangars and maintenance shops, and offices for Air Corps personnel, flight instructors, ground school instructors, and mechanics. Tuskegee Institute was one of the very few American institutions to own, develop, and control facilities for military flight instruction.

After pilot cadets passed primary flight training at Moton Field, they transferred to Tuskegee Army Air Field (TAAF) to complete their training with the Army Air Corps. TAAF was a full-scale military base (albeit segregated) built by the U.S. military. The facility at Moton Field included two aircraft hangars, a control tower, locker building, clubhouse, wooden offices and storage buildings, brick storage buildings, and a vehicle maintenance area. The base at Tuskegee Army Air Field was closed in 1946. In 1972, a large portion of the air field at Moton Field was deeded to the city of Tuskegee for use as a municipal airport which is still in use today.

Support Personnel  Top

More than 10,000 African-American men and women in military and civilian groups supported the Tuskegee Airmen. They served as flight instructors, officers, bombardiers, navigators, radio technicians, mechanics, air traffic controllers, parachute riggers, and electrical and communications specialists.

Support personnel also included laboratory assistants, cooks, musicians, and supply, fire-fighting, and transportation personnel. Their participation helped paved the way for desegregation of the military that began with President Harry S. Truman's Executive Order 9981 in 1948. The civilian world gradually began to integrate and African Americans entered commercial aviation and the space program.

Benjamin O. Davis  Top

In 1936, Benjamin O. Davis, Jr. was the first African American to graduate from West Point Military Academy in 47 years. First assigned to Fort Benning, Georgia, Davis served as an aide to his father, Brigadier General Davis before transferring to the military science staff at Tuskegee Institute, Alabama.

As one of the first five graduates to get wings at Tuskegee Army Air Field in March 1942, Davis was assigned to the newly activated 99th Fighter Squadron. By August of that year, he became squadron commander. The 99th left for North Africa early in 1943. The group flew many combat missions under Davis' command. Davis returned to the U.S. in September 1943 to assume command of the 332nd Fighter Group. Maj. George S. "Spanky" Roberts remained in Europe and became the commanding officer of the 99th Fighter Squadron.

The fighter group was transferred to Italy in February 1944 where they maintained an outstanding combat record. The 332nd flew bomber escorts. In March 1945, Davis led the 332nd on a 1,600-mile round-trip escort mission to Berlin. During that mission, the Tuskegee Airmen never lost a bomber, despite an onslaught of the latest and fastest enemy German planes. The 332nd won a Distinguished Unit Citation for the mission.

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