Friday, January 20, 2012

"Red Tails" and the Tuskegee Airmen

The reviews of the movie "Red Tails" complain about the lack of dimensionality in the characters. What a shame! the Tuskegee Airmen exemplified pride and heroism in the history of the United States.

We interviewed three tuskegee Airmen who lived in our area, Philadelphia's Main Line. One flew 133 escort missions and never lost one bomber. He was shot down over Yugoslavia and spent about a month in a POW camp. He told us that his captors gave him no treatment for his broken hip, fed him grass soup and rotten potatoes, and every day they asked him to turn against the United States and join the enemy, the Axis. He declined. They were puzzled. They said "you are treated so badly because of your dark skin. Why do you stay?" And his answer "because I have a choice."

When he was rescued at the war's end, he was down to 70 pounds. As a result, he spent a year in a US hospital and walked with a noticeable limp. One leg was considerably shorter than the other in spite of many surgeries.

Then he got an engineering degree, worked in the GE re-entry systems, and owned many patents.

Another Tuskegee Airman taught flying to the new volunteers. We asked him if he ever had to jump out of a plane. He replied, with a big smile, "only when the plane was safely on the ground."

He waxed enthusiastically about Eleanor Roosevelt. The army did not want her to fly with any of the Tuskegee Airmen but the President's wife did what she pleased. Her confidence in their flying ability gradually made its way down the ranks.

But, not to everybody. A third Main Line Tuskegee Airman, a doctor and an officer, said that for a while, the enlisted men would not salute him or any other African American officers. All the officers refused to leave their quarters until they received the military respect that they earned and deserved. He flew a 2-engine bomber.

The Tuskegee Airmen spoke proudly and lovingly of their P-51 fighter planes.

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