On July 19, 1941, the AAF began a program in Alabama to train black Americans as military pilots. Primary flight training was conducted by the Division of Aeronautics of Tuskegee Institute, the famed school of learning founded by Booker T. Washington in 1881. Once a cadet completed primary training at Tuskegee's Moton Field, he was sent to nearby Tuskegee Army Air Field for completion of flight training and for transition to combat type aircraft.
The first classes of Tuskegee airman were trained to be fighter pilots for the famous 99th Fighter Squadron, slated for combat duty in North Africa. Additional pilots were assigned to the 322d Fighter Group which flew combat along with the 99th Squadron from bases in Italy. In Sep. 1943, a twin-engine training program was begun at Tuskegee to provide bomber pilots. However, World War II ended before these men were able to get into combat. By the end of the war, 992 men had graduated from pilot training at Tuskegee.
450 of whom were sent overseas for combat assignment. During the same period, approximately 150 lost their lives while in training or on combat flights. Additional men were trained at Tuskegee for aircrew and ground crew duties flight engineers, gunners, mechanics, armorers, etc. Others were sent to Texas and New Mexico for training as navigators and bombardiers. The picture to the right is a picture of student pilot at Moton Field.
Lt. Col. Leo R. Gray had made significant contributions to the warfare of this country throughout his military and civilian careers. Soon after high school graduation, Lieutenant Colonel Gray joined the Army Air Corps and began his aviation cadet training in 1943. Little more than a year later he graduate from the Tuskegee Army Air field as a Second Lieutenant, single engine pilot. While stationed in Italy as a fighter pilot, Gray flew 15 combat missions in P-51s for a total of 750 hours flying time.
He left active duty in 1946, but remained in the USAF Reserves until 1984. During his 41 years of military service, Lieutenant Colonel Gray earned a Coveted Air Medal with one oak leaf cluster and a Presidential Unit Citation. Gray earned a Bachelor's degree from the University of Massachusetts in 1950, a Masters degree from the University of Nebraska in 1952, and did post graduate work at the University of Maryland from 1962-1964. He began his 30 year career with USDA in 1953 as a Technical Assistant at the University of Massachusetts, Agricultural Extension Service.
Gray wore many hats in the USDA career. He served as an agricultural economist with the Economic Research Service, an economist with APHIS in California, and as Director, Program Planning Office of the Food Safety & Inspection Service to mention a few. In addition, he was an economic consultant to USAID in West Africa. (Tuskegee Airmen, display a poster of the HBO movie Lt. Leo Gray third from the left). His professional and civic life reflects his deep commitments to the Tuskegee Airmen, to agricultural economic research organizations, and to cilil rights. He is a member of the Tuskegee Airmen In, and in 1991 became founder and president of the Miami Chapter of Tuskegee Airmen, Inc.
He is the past president, vice president and treasurer of the East Coast Chapter of Tuskegee Airmen, the founder and past president of the Forum on Blacks in Agriculture, the past president of Good Hope East Civic Association in Silver Springs, MD and a former member of the Richmond, California, Model Neighborhood Citizens Board. Other memberships include the Air Force Association, the Retired Officers Association, and the NAACP. Lieutenant Colonel Gray has traveled extensively the North, Central and South America, and Europe, Africa, Asia and Australia.
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