Arizona Wing Aviation Museum
Why is the event being presented?
The Tribute event is timed to coincide with Lucasfilm’s release of “Red Tails” on January 20, 2012. See www.redtails2012.com. However, the Tribute event is presented an entire week earlier — at the start of the 2012 MLK Holiday weekend — to raise awareness of the significance of the Tuskegee Airmen’s experience not just in aerial combat over Europe in World War II, but as a major driver in the movement for civil rights and equality which, in the decades following World War Two, reshaped America’s military in particular and American society on the whole.
It was in effect, the force and excellence of the Tuskegee Airmen’s experience that provided the momentum, substance and support for the social evolution for which national and local Black leaders like Dr. Martin Luther King and others are known.
By Proclamation of Governor Jan Brewer, January 14, 2012 will be proclaimed Arizona’s Salute to the Tuskegee Airmen.
Who are the Tuskegee Airmen?
Fifteen thousand Black Americans — men and women — were trained at Tuskegee Army Air Field in Alabama and at other bases across America as pilots, air crew, ground support, armorers, tacticians, planners, doctors, nurses and other medical personnel — an entirely segregated force — to combat Nazi aggression in Europe. Approximately 450 Tuskegee Airmen formed four fighter squadrons — the 99th, the 100th, the 301st and the 302nd of the 332nd Fighter Group — known at the time as “Red Tails” for the distinctive red tail markings of their P-51 Mustangs. They flew ground support missions for Allied troops in the field from bases in North Africa and then ultimately Italy, but they are best known for their escort of 15th Air Force heavy bombers on missions targeted at German factories and military installations in central and eastern Europe, including Germany itself. Under the leadership of their ranking officer, Colonel Benjamin O. Davis, Jr., their mission was to stay with the bombers they escorted. They did so and provided an effective shield against German fighters that would have otherwise ravaged the American bomber formations. In doing so they had one of the lowest loss rates of escorted bombers in the European Theater. Over sixty Tuskegee Airmen lost their lives and over thirty were taken prisoner by the Germans after being shot down. Those who returned became the nucleus of a force that would ultimately see the integration of the U. S Armed Forces by President Harry Truman in 1948. The example had wide ranging repercussions for American social change in the decades following the war.
Why will the Tribute Event be so valuable?
The Lucasfilm story of the Tuskegee Airmen itself chronicles the experiences of these men of color who rose to their Nation’s defense at its greatest time of need — to combat Fascism in Europe that threatened the very existence of the United States — notwithstanding the discrimination these men confronted here at home. Their acts of heroism and determination, although uniquely and greatly contributing to the Allied success in Europe in the Second World War, were not celebrated nor acknowledged for many years after the war’s close. As men of color, they returned home to face challenges that were, in many respects, just as significant and daunting as those they met on the battlefield.
The Tribute event, then, is aimed at providing this important educational awareness as a preface to the “Red Tails” film, thereby heightening audience appreciation for the special contribution made by these men to our country’s wartime and social history.
Arizonans in particular should be aware and proud of the fact that these historic men reside and still walk among us here in our State. This unique event will provide a special opportunity then to meet Arizona’s Tuskegee Airmen, gain valuable insights into their history and legacy and preview a behind-the-scenes educational film backgrounding the forthcoming “Red Tails” movie and the historic events that inspired the film’s production.
Who are the Honorees?
The honorees are all original Tuskegee Airmen — meaning men who trained at Tuskegee Army Air Field between 1941 and 1948. They include fighter and bomber pilots and ground crewmen. They include:
- Fred Archer (Deceased)
- Nathaniel Carr, Sr. (Deceased)
- Vernon Haywood (Deceased)
- Lincoln Ragsdale, Sr. (Deceased)
- Luke Weathers (Deceased)
- Bob Ashby
- George Biggs
- Bill Campbell
- Charles Cooper
- Thurston Gaines
- Ivie Giles
- Asa Herring
- Rudolph Silas
- Howard Williams
Who is involved in the production and presentation of the Event?
The event is hosted by the CAF Arizona Wing Aviation Museum, in close collaboration with the Archer-Ragsdale Arizona Chapter of the Tuskegee Airmen, Inc. and The Buffalo Soldiers of the Arizona Territory and the Ladies and Gentlemen of the Regiment, who will provide an Honor Guard for the honorees and invited dignitaries.
The CAF Arizona Wing Aviation Museum is operated by the Arizona Wing of the Commemorative Air Force. Organized in 1978 as the Arizona chapter of the Commemorative Air Force, the Wing’s mission is to restore and preserve historically important aircraft and related memorabilia in order to educate the public about the significant contributions made by men and women in the defense of the Nation.
The Archer-Ragsdale Arizona Chapter of the Tuskegee Airmen, Inc. is named in honor of two original Tuskegee Airmen, Fred Archer, the first African American USAF Chief Master Sergeant and Lincoln Ragsdale, a Civil Rights leader and prominent businessman in Phoenix and the State of Arizona who decided to remain in the Phoenix area after completing his military obligation as a P-51 fighter pilot at Luke Air Force Base. The Archer-Ragsdale Chapter is committed to keeping alive the great legacy of the Tuskegee Airmen through youth outreach and other community-based programs throughout Phoenix, the state and the Southwest, targeting in particular minority youth including African Americans, Hispanics, and Native Americans.
The Buffalo Soldiers of the Arizona Territory and the Ladies and Gentlemen of the Regiment is based in Mesa, Arizona, and was founded by Commander Fred Marable and Michelle London- Marable as a means to keep alive the history and legacy of the Buffalo Soldiers, whose consistent devotion to duty dates back well before Arizona’s statehood. The Buffalo Soldiers of the Arizona Territory appear regularly at events celebrating local and national historic occasions and other celebrations where its members present an accurate depiction, reenactment and portrayal of the 19th Century West in which the Buffalo Soldier legacy finds it roots.