Black Pilots, The Tuskegee Airmen Shattered The Myth In The Movie “Red Tails”


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Black Pilots, The Tuskegee Airmen Shattered The Myth In The Movie “Red Tails”

By Mike Mitchell

January 13, 2012 - The George Lucas film, “Red Tails”, about Alabama’s Tuskegee Airmen premieres Friday, January 20, 2012. The storyline follows the lives of the 332nd Fighter Group who were called into duty under the guidance of Col. A.J. Bullard played by Oscar nominee Terrence Howard. Howard’s character is loosely based on Tuskegee Airmen Commander Benjamin Oliver Davis, Jr. who became the first African American general in the U.S. Air Force.

Lucas appeared on The Daily Show and said he had trouble getting funding for "Red Tails" because of its Black cast. "This has been held up for release since 1942 since it was shot, I've been trying to get released ever since. It's because it's an all Black movie. There's no major White roles in it at all...I showed it to all of them and they said no. We don't know how to market a movie like this."

The Tuskegee Airmen is the popular name of a group of African American pilots who fought in World War II  and  “Shattered The Myth.”  Formally, they were the 332nd Fighter Group and the 477th Bombardment Group of the U.S. Army Air Corps.

The Tuskegee Airmen were the first African American military aviators in the United States armed forces. During World War II, African Americans in many U.S. states were still subject to the Jim Crow Laws. The American military was racially segregated, as was much of the federal government.

The Tuskegee Airmen were subject to racial discrimination, both within and outside the army. Despite these adversities, they trained and flew with distinction.

"Red Tails" is a high-flying action epic about the first African American combat pilots in the Tuskegee training program whose abilities were called into question as a result of segregation. The airmen were mostly untested, but proved themselves during WWII combat missions in Sicily and throughout Italy. They also escorted bombers across Europe. Their nickname “red tails” stems from the red paint they applied to the tails of their planes.  

The movie also stars Oscar winner Cuba Gooding Jr. as Major Emanuelle Stance and Theo James who plays an intelligence officer. Lucas is the executive producer and Anthony Hemingway directed the action drama. The co-executive producer Charles Floyd Johnson is a native of Camden, Alabama.  

Accomplishments - In all, 996 pilots were trained in Tuskegee from 1941 to 1946, approximately 445 were deployed overseas, and 150 Airmen lost their lives in accidents or combat. The casualty toll included 66 pilots killed in action or accidents, and 32 fallen into captivity as prisoners of war. 

The Tuskegee Airmen were credited by higher commands with the following accomplishments, 15,533 combat sorties, 1578 missions, 112 German aircraft destroyed in the air, another 150 on the ground, 950 railcars trucks and other motor vehicles destroyed, one destroyer sunk and a great record of protecting U.S. bombers losing only 25 on hundreds of missions. 

Awards and decorations for valor and performance included three Distinguished Unit Citations, 99th Pursuit Squadron, 30 May–11 June 1943, for the capture of Pantelleria, Italy, 99th Fighter Squadron, 12–14 May 1944, for successful air strikes against Monte Cassino, Italy, 332d Fighter Group, 24 March 1945, for the longest bomber escort mission of World War II,  and at least one Silver Star, an estimated one hundred and fifty Distinguished Flying Crosses, 14 Bronze Stars, 744 Air Medals and eight Purple Hearts.

Instrument certificate for Tuskegee Airman Robert M. Glass, signed by Parrish

In celebration of the movie release, the Tuskegee Airmen National Historic Site and Museum at Moton Field is offering an extended schedule of tours Jan. 20-22. “The public can watch the movie in theatres over the weekend then visit our museum to see the real deal,” said Sandy Taylor, Superintendent, Tuskegee Airmen National Historic Site. “Visitors will get the chance to join a ranger-guided tour of Hangar One and youth can become Junior Rangers.”

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