Red Tails: The Tuskegee Airmen (Part 4)

Part four: the Smithsonian helps you teach about the Tuskegee Airmen

The Tuskegee Airmen were the first African-American aerial combat unit.  Deployed in Europe during WWII, they painted the tails of their planes red and became known as the Red Tails.  To the Americans, they were the Red Tail Angels.  To the Germans, they were the Red Tail Devils.  To all of us, they are heroes who sought a Double Victory: victory in the war abroad and victory over prejudice, segregation and Jim Crow laws at home.

This is part four of a series about the Tuskegee Airmen to coordinate with the January 20 release of Red Tails, the Lucasfilm action movie.  Go see it!

The Smithsonian’s National Air and SpaceMuseum created a 50 page teacher’s guide about African American Pioneers in Aviation (pdf).  It is every bit as outstanding as you’d expect a Smithsonian publication to be.  You will love the detailed biographies, helpful lesson plans, ready-made worksheets, and primary sources.

(Remind your students that the Tuskegee Airmen came to the rescue in the movie Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian)

No Tuskegee Airmen lesson could be complete without a lesson about the pilot shown in the photo above: Benjamin O. Davis Jr.  He was the first African-American general in the U.S. Air Force, son of the first African-American general in the U.S. Army.

Benjamin O. Davis Jr. was the first African American to graduate from West Point in the 20th century.  During his four years at West Point, he was completely ostracized by his classmates.  He never had a roommate.  He ate by himself.  Fellow cadets only spoke to him when official duty made it necessary.

It was designed to make me buckle, but I refused to buckle. They didn’t understand that I was going to stay there, and I was going to graduate. I was not missing anything by not associating with them. They were missing a great deal by not knowing me.”—Benjamin O. Davis Jr.

Benjamin O. Davis Jr.’s leadership was invaluable to the Tuskegee Airmen.  When he led the 332nd Fighter Group in their mission as fighter escort pilots protecting bombers, he insisted that they stay with their bombers at all times, at all costs.  The Tuskegee Airmen never lost a bomber and won the admiration of American bomber crews and the German pilots who flew against them. Of Davis, a Tuskegee Airman said “it was because of the discipline he exacted that we were able to make the record we did.”

Benjamin O. Davis Jr. knew a thing or two about unit pride and public relations.  He thought of painting the tails of their P-51 Mustangs red so the bomber groups would know who was escorting them. Read Benjamin O. Davis Jr., American : An Autobiography

This past weekend, I was excited to meet Tuskegee Airmen in an event to honor their legacy.  I was thrilled to pose for pictures with three Tuskegee Airmen.  I am posting a picture for each entry in this miniseries.  This photo is Tuskegee Airman Lt. Col. Asa Herring and me.  (The photo is a true snapshot—in my mind I was exactly next to Lt. Col. Herring and in the photo I block him.  Sorry.)

Asa Herring graduated from high school at 16 and passed the U.S. Army Air Corps Aviation Cadet written examination at age 17.  He had to wait until he was 18 before he could be inducted and begin flight training.  During his 22 years of military service, Asa served in England, Korea, Germany, Vietnam, and other temporary assignments worldwide. He was the first Black Squadron Commander at Luke Air Force Base*, Arizona, where he trained pilots in the F-104G Advanced Jet Fighter Gunnery Program. He was officially appointed an honorary Command Pilot in the German Luftwaffe.  Click to read a fact sheet about Lt. Col. Herring, provided by Luke AFB.

*Incidentally, Luke AFB is home of the Emerald Knights, one of my dad’s old squadrons and the one I remember most clearly.  They were based at Homestead AFB near Miami when my dad flew with them.  Visit my about the author page and scroll down to see a photo of my dad’s last flight.

Tuskegee Airmen, Part 1Tuskegee Airmen, Part 2
Tuskegee Airmen, Part 3Tuskegee Airmen, Part 4

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Posted in Academics,Social Studies by Corey Green @ Jan 24, 2012


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