Archive for Thursday, June 9, 2011

Red Tailed Angels

June 9, 2011

Last Sunday we attended a postal worker retiree luncheon in Kansas City, Kan. Since Ada is a retiree, I was allowed to tag along, and it was most interesting. Carriers were honored for their years of service and the length of time they had been retired. Some of them were in their 90s and still going strong.

One 92-year-old retiree, John Adams, was also a guest speaker and what an interesting life he has had. I managed to visit with him afterward and found he is also a portrait painter and went to the Art Institute close to the same time I did. But the main attraction was that he belonged to the Tuskegee Airmen. This was a popular name of a group of African-American pilots who flew with distinction during World War II as the 332nd Fighter Group of the U.S. Army Air Corps. He told us of his experiences at that time. They escorted B-17 bombers on their missions and the B-17 pilots were happy to have them.

The planes they flew first were Curtiss P-40 Warhawks fighter bomber aircraft. Briefly they were given the P-39 Airacobras, later they were given the P-47 Thunderbolt, and finally the fighter group acquired the aircraft which became most commonly used, the North American P-51 Mustang. Their pilots painted the tails red, and the B-17 pilots referred to them as their “Red Tailed Angels”.

The Tuskegee program officially began in June 1941 with the 99th Pursuit Squadron at the Tuskegee Institute in Alabama. This institute was founded by Booker T. Washington. The unit consisted of 47 officers and 429 enlisted men. President Franklin Roosevelt actually started this program and first lady Eleanor Roosevelt went to Alabama to inspect the unit. The instructor was Alfred “Chief” Anderson, who had been flying since 1929 and was the African-American chief civilian instructor. He took the first lady on a 30-minute ride in his Waco biplane. She cheerfully announced, “Well, you can fly all right.” She was instrumental, as a trustee of the Julius Rosenwald Fund, to arrange a loan of $175,000 to purchase the land for Moton Field for the purpose of training new pilots.

The Heart of America Chapter of the Tuskegee Airmen recently celebrated its 70th reunion in Overland Park. Seven of the original airmen lived in the Kansas City area. Here’s to the Red Tailed Angels.

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