By Mike Thomason/Contributing Writer
While most think of the Tuskegee Airmen as a combat fighter pilot unit, they were much more than that, and led the way to the modern integrated United States armed forces.
Established during World War II as part of the Army Air Corps just months before the attack on Pearl Harbor, the Tuskegee Airmen have become one of Alabama’s most famous military units. Serving in the nation’s segregated military, its original officers were white, while its men and women were black.
Author Daniel Haulman is a retired Air Force colonel and chief of the Organizational History Division of the U.S. Air Force Research Agency at Maxwell Field in Montgomery. Haulman has written several other books on the Tuskegee Airmen over the years, and this volume is something of a summing up of his work and that of other authors.
“The Tuskegee Airmen Chronology” provides a great overview of the history of black airmen, pilots and aircrew. It reminds us that men were being trained in all aspects of combat service, in various single-engine fighters and twin-engine light to medium bombers throughout the war.
Units of the Tuskegee Airmen were training to bomb Japan when the atom bombs abruptly ended the war in August 1945. When the several all-black units were replaced by integrated units in the newly created Air Force in 1947 and the entire military desegregated the following year, their legacy lived on.
The first black general in the Air Force, Benjamin O. Davis, was one of the original Tuskegee Airmen. Over the years he was followed by a series of distinguished officers from the group, and many prominent civilians also got their start as Tuskegee Airmen.
During WWII and in the years immediately after, black officers and black organizations such as the NAACP fought to get people of color the right to serve as pilots and in other skilled jobs — as navigators, gunners, air crews, quartermasters and nurses. The Tuskegee experiment literally opened up all jobs in the service to black people.
Overseas, the first Tuskegee Airmen in the 999th Pursuit Squadron went from training at Tuskegee directly to combat in North Africa, where they soon demonstrated their ability in the air. Eventually flying P-47s and P-51s with tail fins painted bright red, their planes won the admiration and respect of the soldiers they protected in Italy and the bombers they escorted in the Mediterranean and in southern Europe. Their war record was one of the best in the entire U.S. Air Force. Today their fame rests primarily on their combat record, with good reason.
The author provides a detailed summary of all Tuskegee units at all the bases where they were assigned throughout the war and in the years after until 1950, when all segregated elements were disbanded. An interesting epilogue covers the years afterward through the present day, outlining the accomplishments of Tuskegee pilots and crew and the books and films that have chronicled their exploits.
The book is written in a dispassionate style because this story needs no embellishment — just its telling. Haulman knows the story so well that the reader just follows along, lost in the amazing tale of racial triumph against prejudice and dead tradition.
The Tuskegee Airmen were not all from Alabama by any means, but they were all Americans and we all can take pride in their achievement and in Haulman’s outstanding work.
“The Tuskegee Airmen Chronology: A Detailed Timeline of the Red Tails and Other Black Pilots of World War II”
Dr. Daniel L. Haulman
NewSouth Books: Montgomery, 2017 $25.95
The author will give a lecture and sign books (available for purchase) at Bernheim Hall in the Ben May branch of the Mobile Public Library on Thursday, Dec. 7, at 6:30 p.m. Call 251-208-7097.