Powhatan Beaty (October 8, 1837 – December 6, 1916) was an African American soldier and actor. During the American Civil War, he served in the Union Army’s 5th United States Colored Infantry Regiment throughout the Richmond–Petersburg Campaign. He received America’s highest military decoration, the Medal of Honor, for taking command of his company at the Battle of Chaffin’s Farm after all officers had been killed and/or wounded.
Following the war, he became an orator and actor, appearing in amateur theater productions in his home of Cincinnati, Ohio. His most well-known stage performance was an 1884 appearance at Ford’s Theater in Washington, D.C., opposite Henrietta Vinton Davis.
Beaty was born into slavery on October 8, 1837 in Richmond, Virginia. He moved to Cincinnati, Ohio, in 1849, where he received an education. He gained his freedom sometime on or before April 19, 1861; the exact date is unknown and may have been before his move to Ohio. While in school, he developed an interest in theater and made his public acting debut at a school concert. After leaving school, he was apprenticed to a black cabinet maker and eventually worked as a turner. He continued to study acting privately and received training in the field from several coaches, including James E. Murdock, a retired professional stage actor from Philadelphia.
A year after the outbreak of the Civil War, with the decisive Confederate victory at the Battle of Richmond, Kentucky, on August 30, 1862, rumors of an impending Confederate attack on Cincinnati began to circulate. Richmond was one hundred miles to the south of Cincinnati, and no organized Union troops lay between the two cities. An attack by Confederate Colonel John Hunt Morgan, who had led his cavalry on a raid behind Union lines in Kentucky the previous month, was also feared. On September 2, the men of Cincinnati were organized into work units to build fortifications around the city.
Although Cincinnati’s African Americans were initially pressed into service at bayonet point, after the appointment of William Dickson as commander of the black troops their treatment improved significantly. Dickson promised that they would be treated fairly and kept together as a distinct unit, to be called the Black Brigade. He then allowed them to return home to prepare for military service, with orders to report the next morning for duty. About four hundred men were released that day, September 4, and the next morning about seven hundred reported for duty. Among those men was Beaty, who served in Company Number 1 of the Brigade’s 3rd Regiment. Despite the danger of Confederate attack, the unarmed unit was assigned to build defenses near the Licking River in Kentucky, far in advance of the Union lines. For the next fifteen days, they cleared forests, constructed forts, magazines and roads, and dug trenches and rifle pits. The brigade was disbanded on September 20, the threat of attack having receded.
 United States Colored Troops service
A portion of the 127th Ohio Volunteer Infantry, later re-designated the 5th USCT, in Delaware, OhioBy June 1863, Ohio had not yet fielded an African American combat unit, but Ohio blacks were being recruited for service in the regiments of other states. Beaty enlisted from Cincinnati on June 7, 1863 for a three-year term of service in the Union Army; he was among a group of men recruited for a Massachusetts regiment. He joined as a private but was promoted to sergeant only two days later. He was placed in charge of a squad of forty-seven other recruits and ordered to report to Columbus, Ohio, from where they would be sent to Boston. Upon arriving in Columbus on June 15, however, they learned that the Massachusetts regiments were full and unable to accept their service. The Governor of Ohio, David Tod, immediately requested permission from the Department of War to form an Ohio regiment of African Americans. Permission was granted, and on June 17, Beaty and his squad became the first members of the 127th Ohio Volunteer Infantry, later re-designated the 5th United States Colored Troops. After three months of recruitment and organization in Camp Delaware, on the Olentangy River outside of Delaware, Ohio, the unit set out for Virginia.
By the Battle of Chaffin’s Farm on September 29, 1864, Beaty had risen to the rank of first sergeant in Company G. His regiment was among a division of black troops assigned to attack the center of the Confederate defenses at New Market Heights. The defenses consisted of two lines of abatis and one line of palisades manned by Brigadier General John Gregg’s Texas Brigade. The attack was met with intense Confederate fire and was turned back after reaching a line of abatis. During the retreat, Company G’s color bearer was killed; Beaty returned through about 600 yards of enemy fire to retrieve the flag and return it to the company lines. The regiment had suffered severe casualties in the failed charge. Of Company G’s eight officers and eighty-three enlisted men who entered the battle, only sixteen enlisted men, including Beaty, survived the attack unwounded. With no officers remaining, Beaty took command of the company and led it through a second charge at the Confederate lines. The second attack successfully drove the Confederates from their fortified positions, at the cost of three more men from Company G. By the end of the battle, over fifty percent of the black division had been killed, captured, or wounded. For his actions, Beaty was commended on the battlefield by General Benjamin Butler and seven months later, on April 6, 1865, awarded the Medal of Honor.
Beaty continued to distinguish himself in the 5th Regiment’s further engagements. His actions during the Battle of Fair Oaks & Darbytown Road in October 1864 earned him a mention in the general orders to the Army of the Potomac. The regimental commander, Colonel Giles Shurtleff, twice recommended him for a promotion to commissioned officer. Nothing came of Colonel Shurtleff’s requests, however Beaty did receive a brevet promotion to lieutenant. By the time he was mustered out of the Army he had participated in thirteen battles and numerous skirmishes.
 Post-war lifeAfter the war, Beaty returned to Cincinnati and raised his family. His son, A. Lee Beaty, became an Ohio state legislator and an assistant U.S. District Attorney for southern Ohio. He resumed his career as a turner and pursued amateur acting and public speaking engagements. He gave public readings for charitable causes and became a well-known elocutionist among the African American community of Cincinnati. Through the 1870s he acted in local theaters and directed music and drama exhibitions in the city. He wrote a play about a rich southern planter entitled Delmar, or Scenes in Southland, which was performed in January 1881 with himself in the lead role. Set in Kentucky, Mississippi, and Massachusetts, the work covered the end of slavery and transition to freedom for blacks from 1860 to 1875. The privately-run play was well received, but Beaty did not engage in self-promotion and it never moved into public theaters.
Henrietta Vinton DavisIn January 1884, Beaty was working as an assistant engineer at the Cincinnati water works when Henrietta Vinton Davis, a prominent African American actress, came to perform in the city. Together, he and Davis put on a large musical and dramatic festival in Melodeon Hall which proved to be very successful. Included in the show were productions of Ingomar, the Barbarian and Robert Montgomery Bird’s The Gladiator, in which Beaty took the role of Spartacus. The culmination of the festival was a performance of selected scenes from Macbeth, with Beaty playing the title role and Davis as Lady Macbeth. Newspapers in both the black and white communities of Cincinnati praised the performances of the two actors, with the Commercial stating that Beaty “threw himself into his part with masterly energy and power”.
The successful festival led to Beaty being invited to play as a principal actor in a Washington, D.C., Shakespearean production organized by Davis. A company including Davis, Beaty, and amateur actors from the D.C. area performed Richard III almost in entirety, three scenes from Macbeth, and one scene from Ingomar, the Barbarian. Davis, the premier black Shakespearean actress of the time, was the star of the show and Beaty played opposite her as Macbeth, King Henry VI, and Ingomar. The May 7, 1884 production was played in Ford’s Opera House to a full house of more than 1,100 people; among them was Frederick Douglass. There was some heckling during the play, primarily from some of the white attendees, however a reviewer from The Washington Post reported that “the earnestness and intelligence of several of the leading performers were such as to command the respect of those most disposed to find cause for laughter in everything that was said or done”. Washington newspapers praised the principal actors, but noted that the inexperience of some of the supporting cast was evident. Reviewers for African American newspapers were especially pleased to see such a production in an important venue like Ford’s Theater. The New York Globe wrote of the performance “[t]hus leap by leap the colored man and woman encroach upon the ground so long held sacred by their white brother and sister
Beaty continued to tour with Davis and performed a show in Philadelphia before returning to Cincinnati. He helped form his city’s Literary and Dramatic Club and, in 1888, became the organization’s drama director. He lived out the rest of his life in Cincinnati and died at age seventy-nine on December 6, 1916; he was buried at Union Baptist Cemetery
John Robert Fox (May 18, 1915–December 26, 1944) was killed in action when he deliberately called for artillery fire on his own position, after his position was overrun, in order to defeat a German attack in the vicinity of Sommocolonia, northern Italy during World War II. He posthumously received the Medal of Honor in 1997, for willingly sacrificing his life.
Fox was born in Cincinnati, Ohio May 18, 1915, and attended Wilberforce University, graduating with an ROTC commission of second lieutenant in 1940. He was 29 years old when he called artillery fire on his own position the day after Christmas in 1944, for which he was posthumously awarded the Distinguished Service Cross in 1982. More than fifty years after his death, Fox was awarded the Medal of Honor. He is buried in Colebrook Cemetery in Whitman, Massachusetts.
In the early 1990s it was determined that African-American soldiers were denied consideration for the Medal of Honor solely due to their race. After a review, seven African-American soldiers had their Medals upgraded in January, 1997 to the Medal of Honor; First Lieutenant Fox was one of the seven.
The 92nd Infantry Division (colored), known as the Buffalo Soldiers, was a segregated African American division that fought in World War II. First Lieutenant John R. Fox was of the 366th Infantry Regiment when he made the ultimate sacrifice in order to defeat the enemy and save the lives of his fellow soldiers. In December 1944, Fox was part of a small forward observer party that volunteered to stay behind in the Italian village of Sommocolonia, in the Serchio River Valley. American forces had been forced to withdraw from the village after it had been overrun by the enemy. From his position on the second floor of a house, Fox directed defensive artillery fire.
The enemy was in the streets and attacking in strength, greatly outnumbering the small group of American soldiers. Fox radioed in to have the artillery fire adjusted closer to his position, then radioed again to have the shelling moved even closer. The soldier receiving the message was stunned, for that would bring the deadly fire right on top of Fox’s position; there was no way he would survive. When Fox was told this, he replied, “Fire it.” This shelling delayed the enemy advance until other units could reorganize to repel the attack.
His action permitted U.S. forces, who had been forced to withdraw, to organize a counterattack and regain control of the village. After the units had retaken the village, they found Fox’s body along with the bodies of about one hundred enemy soldiers.
After the war the citizens of Sommocolonia, Italy erected a monument to nine men who were killed during the artillery barrage – eight Italian soldiers, and Lieutenant Fox.
In 2005, the toy company Hasbro introduced a 12-inch action figure “commemorating Lt. John R. Fox as part of its G.I. Joe Medal-of-Honor series.”
Medal of Honor citation
For his “gallant and courageous actions, at the supreme sacrifice of his own life,” Fox was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor. His widow, the former Arlene Marrow of Brockton, Massachusetts, received his medal from President Bill Clinton in a White House ceremony on January 13, 1997. On that day, Clinton also awarded the medal to six other previously neglected African American World War II veterans, including Vernon Baker, who was the only one living when awarded.
For extraordinary heroism against an armed enemy in the vicinity of Sommocolonia, Italy on 26 December 1944, while serving as a member of Cannon Company, 366th Infantry Regiment, 92d Infantry Division. During the preceding few weeks, Lieutenant Fox served with the 598th Field Artillery Battalion as a forward observer. On Christmas night, enemy soldiers gradually infiltrated the town of Sommocolonia in civilian clothes, and by early morning the town was largely in hostile hands. Commencing with a heavy barrage of enemy artillery at 0400 hours on 26 December 1944, an organized attack by uniformed German units began. Being greatly outnumbered, most of the United States Infantry forces were forced to withdraw from the town, but Lieutenant Fox and some other members of his observer party voluntarily remained on the second floor of a house to direct defensive artillery fire. At 0800 hours, Lieutenant Fox reported that the Germans were in the streets and attacking in strength. He then called for defensive artillery fire to slow the enemy advance. As the Germans continued to press the attack towards the area that Lieutenant Fox occupied, he adjusted the artillery fire closer to his position. Finally he was warned that the next adjustment would bring the deadly artillery right on top of his position. After acknowledging the danger, Lieutenant Fox insisted that the last adjustment be fired as this was the only way to defeat the attacking soldiers. Later, when a counterattack retook the position from the Germans, Lieutenant Fox’s body was found with the bodies of approximately 100 German soldiers. Lieutenant Fox’s gallant and courageous actions, at the supreme sacrifice of his own life, contributed greatly to delaying the enemy advance until other infantry and artillery units could reorganize to repel the attack. His extraordinary valorous actions were in keeping with the most cherished traditions of military service, and reflect the utmost credit on him, his unit, and the United States Army
Daniel “Chappie” James Jr. (February 11, 1920 – February 25, 1978) was a fighter pilot in the U.S. Air Force, who in 1975 became the first black American to reach the rank of four-star general.
World War II
James graduated from the Tuskegee Institute in 1942 where he received a bachelor of science degree in physical education. He continued civilian pilot training under the government-sponsored Civilian Pilot Training Program. He remained at Tuskegee as a civilian instructor pilot in the Army Air Corps Aviation Cadet Program until January 1943, when he entered the program as a cadet and received his commission as a second lieutenant later that July. Throughout the remainder of the war James trained pilots for the all-black 99th Pursuit Squadron. He did not see combat until the Korean War
In September 1949, James went to the Philippines as flight leader for the 12th Fighter-Bomber Squadron, 18th Fighter Wing at Clark Field. In July 1950 he left for Korea, where he flew 101 combat missions in P-51 Mustang and F-80 aircraft.
James returned to the United States, and in July 1951 went to Otis Air Force Base, Massachusetts as an all-weather jet fighter pilot with the 58th Fighter-Interceptor Squadron, later becoming operations officer. In April 1953 he became commander of the 437th Fighter-Interceptor Squadron, and assumed command of the 60th Fighter-Interceptor Squadron in August 1955. While stationed at Otis, he received the Massachusetts Junior Chamber of Commerce 1954 award of “Young Man of the Year” for his outstanding community relations efforts. On August 15, 1954 he appeared as a contestant on the game show What’s My Line? He graduated from the Air Command and Staff College in June 1957.
James next was assigned to Headquarters U.S. Air Force as a staff officer in the Air Defense Division of the Office of the Deputy Chief of Staff for Operations. In July 1960 he was transferred to RAF Bentwaters in England, where he served successively as assistant director of operations and then director of operations, 81st Tactical Fighter Wing; commander, 92nd Tactical Fighter Squadron; and deputy commander for operations for the 81st Wing. In September 1964 James was transferred to Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Arizona, where he was director of operations training and later deputy commander for operations for the 4453rd Combat Crew Training Wing.
Daniel “Chappie” James, Jr. (standing) in August 1967, addressing a conference at Ubon Air Base, Thailand. Robin Olds is sitting to his right.
James went to Ubon Royal Thai Air Force Base, Thailand in December 1966, as deputy commander for operations, 8th TFW. In June 1967, under Colonel Robin Olds, he was named wing vice commander when Col. Vermont Garrison completed his tour. Both in their mid-40s, they formed a legendary team nicknamed “Blackman and Robin.” James flew 78 combat missions into North Vietnam, many in the Hanoi/Haiphong area, and led a flight in the “Operation Bolo” MiG sweep in which seven Communist MiG-21s were destroyed, the highest total kill of any mission during the Vietnam War.
Colonel (at the time) Daniel “Chappie” James, Jr. in front of his McDonnell-Douglas F-4C Phantom in Thailand during the Vietnam War.
Arlington National Cemetery
He was named vice commander of the 33rd TFW at Eglin Air Force Base, Florida, in December 1967. While stationed at Eglin, the Florida State Jaycees named James as Florida’s “Outstanding American of the Year” for 1969, and he received the Jaycee Distinguished Service Award. He was transferred to Wheelus Air Base in the Libyan Arab Republic in August 1969 as Commander of the 7272nd Fighter Training Wing.
James became Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense (Public Affairs) in March 1970 and was designated principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense (Public Affairs) in April 1973. On September 1, 1974, he assumed duty as vice commander of the Military Airlift Command (MAC), headquartered at Scott Air Force Base, Illinois.
James was promoted to four-star grade and assigned as commander in chief of NORAD/ADCOM at Peterson Air Force Base, Colorado, on September 1, 1975. In these dual capacities he had operational command of all United States and Canadian strategic aerospace defense forces. On December 6, 1977, he assumed duty as special assistant to the Chief of Staff, U.S. Air Force.
General James was widely known for his speeches on Americanism and patriotism, for which he was editorialized in numerous national and international publications. Excerpts from some of the speeches have been read into the Congressional Record. He was awarded the George Washington Freedom Foundation Medal in both 1967 and 1968. He received the Arnold Air Society Eugene M. Zuckert Award in 1970 for outstanding contributions to Air Force professionalism. His citation read “… fighter pilot with a magnificent record, public speaker, and eloquent spokesman for the American Dream we so rarely achieve.”
Other civilian awards that General James received included the following: Builders of a Greater Arizona Award (1969); Phoenix Urban League Man of the Year Award, Distinguished Service Achievement Award from Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity (1970); American Legion National Commander’s Public Relations Award, Veteran of Foreign Wars Commander in Chief’s Gold Medal Award and Citation (1971); Capital Press Club, Washington, D.C., Salute to Black Pioneers Award (1975); and, all in 1976, the Air Force Association Jimmy Doolittle Chapter Man of the Year Award, Florida Association of Broadcasters’ Gold Medal Award, American Veterans of World War II Silver Helmet Award, United Service Organization Liberty Bell Award, Blackbook Minority Business and Reference Guidance Par Excellence Award, American Academy of Achievement Golden Plate Award, United Negro College Fund’s Distinguished Service Award, Horatio Alger Award, VFW Americanism Medal, Bishop Wright Air Industry Award, and the Kitty Hawk Award (Military). He was awarded honorary doctor of laws degrees from the University of West Florida in 1971; the University of Akron in 1973; Virginia State College in 1974; Delaware State College in 1975; and St. Louis University in 1976. He was named honorary national commander of the Arnold Air Society in 1971.
General James died of a heart attack on February 25, 1978, just two weeks after his 58th birthday and three weeks following his retirement from the Air Force.
General James’s son, Lieutenant General Daniel James III, also served in the United States Air Force and in the Texas Air National Guard. He served from 1995 to 2002 as the Adjutant General of the Texas National Guard (the first African American to hold the post), and as Director of the Air National Guard from 2002 to 2006. In the summer of 2006, he retired from the Air Force at the rank of Lieutenant General after 38 years of total commissioned service, on active duty and as an Air Guardsman.
The Tuskegee Airmen ( /tʌsˈkiːɡiː/) is the popular name of a group of African American pilots who fought in World War II. Formally, they formed 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 still were subject to the Jim Crow laws.[N 1] The American military was racially segregated, as was much of the federal government. The Tuskegee Airmen were subjected to racial discrimination, both within and outside the army. Despite these adversities, they trained and flew with distinction. Primarily made up of African Americans, there were also five Tuskegee Airmen of Haitian descent.
Although the 477th Bombardment Group “worked up” on North American B-25 Mitchell bombers, they never served in combat; the Tuskegee 332nd Fighter Group was the only operational unit, first sent overseas as part of Operation Torch, then seeing action in Sicily and Italy, before being deployed as bomber escorts in Europe, where they were particularly successful in virtually all their missions.
The Tuskegee Airmen initially were equipped with Curtiss P-40 Warhawks fighter-bomber aircraft, briefly with Bell P-39 Airacobras (March 1944), later with Republic P-47 Thunderbolts (June–July 1944), and finally with the aircraft with which they became most commonly associated, the North American P-51 Mustang (July 1944). When the pilots of the 332nd Fighter Group painted the tails of their P-47s and later, P-51s, red, the nickname “Red Tails” was coined. Bomber crews applied a more effusive “Red-Tail Angels” sobriquet.[N 2]
Before the Tuskegee Airmen, no African American had been a U.S. military pilot. In 1917, African American men had tried to become aerial observers, but were rejected. African American Eugene Bullard served as one of the members of the Franco-American Lafayette Escadrille, but he was denied the opportunity to transfer to American military units as a pilot when the other American pilots in the unit were offered the chance. Instead, Bullard returned to infantry duty with the French.
The racially motivated rejections of World War I African American recruits sparked over two decades of advocacy by African Americans who wished to enlist and train as military aviators. The effort was led by such prominent civil rights leaders as Walter White of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, labor union leader A. Philip Randolph, and Judge William H. Hastie. Finally, on 3 April 1939, Appropriations Bill Public Law 18 was passed by Congress containing an amendment designating funds for training African American pilots. The War Department managed to put the money into funds of civilian flight schools willing to train black Americans.
War Department tradition and policy mandated the segregation of African Americans into separate military units staffed by white officers, as had been done previously with the 9th Cavalry, 10th Cavalry, 24th Infantry Regiment and 25th Infantry Regiment. When the appropriation of funds for aviation training created opportunities for pilot cadets, their numbers diminished the rosters of these older units. A further series of legislative moves by the United States Congress in 1941 forced the Army Air Corps to form an all-black combat unit, despite the War Department’s reluctance.
Due to the restrictive nature of selection policies, the situation did not seem promising for African Americans since, in 1940, the U.S. Census Bureau reported there were only 124 African American pilots in the nation. The exclusionary policies failed dramatically when the Air Corps received an abundance of applications from men who qualified, even under the restrictive requirements. Many of the applicants already had participated in the Civilian Pilot Training Program (CPTP), in which the historically black Tuskegee Institute had participated since 1939.
Portrait of Tuskegee airman, Edward M. Thomas, by photographer, Toni Frissell, March 1945
The U.S. Army Air Corps had established the Psychological Research Unit 1 at Maxwell Army Air Field, Montgomery, Alabama, and other units around the country for aviation cadet training, which included the identification, selection, education, and training of pilots, navigators, and bombardiers. Psychologists employed in these research studies and training programs used some of the first standardized tests to quantify IQ, dexterity and leadership qualities to select and train the best-suited personnel for the roles of bombardier, navigator, and pilot. The Air Corps determined that the existing programs would be used for all units, including all-black units. At Tuskegee, this effort continued with the selection and training of the Tuskegee Airmen. In an effort to subvert the unit before it could commence operations, the War Department set up a system to accept only those with a level of flight experience or higher education intended to exclude most applicants. This ensured that only the most able and intelligent were able to join.
The First Lady’s flight
The budding flight program at Tuskegee received a publicity boost when First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt inspected it in March 1941, and subsequently flew with African American chief civilian instructor C. Alfred “Chief” Anderson. Anderson, who had been flying since 1929, and was responsible for training thousands of rookie pilots, took his prestigious passenger on a half-hour flight in a Waco biplane. After landing, she cheerfully announced, “Well, you can fly all right.”
The subsequent brouhaha over the First Lady’s flight had such an impact it is often mistakenly cited as the start of the CPTP at Tuskegee, even though the program was already five months old. Eleanor Roosevelt used her position as a trustee of the Julius Rosenwald Fund to arrange a loan of $175,000 to purchase the land for Moton Field.
Major James A. Ellison returns the salute of Mac Ross, as he reviews the first class of Tuskegee cadets; flight line at U.S. Army Air Corps basic and advanced flying school, with Vultee BT-13 trainers in the background, Tuskegee, Alabama, 1941
On 19 March 1941, the 99th Pursuit Squadron [N 3] was activated at Chanute Field in Rantoul, Illinois.[N 4] A cadre of 271 enlisted men were trained at Chanute in aircraft ground support trades, beginning in July 1941; the skills being taught were so technical that setting up segregated classes was deemed impossible. This small number of enlisted men became the core of other black squadrons forming at Tuskegee and Maxwell Fields in Alabama.
The Tuskegee program began officially in June 1941 with the 99th Pursuit Squadron at the Tuskegee Institute.[N 5] The unit consisted of 47 officers and 429 enlisted men, and was backed by an entire service arm. After basic training at Moton Field, they were moved to the nearby Tuskegee Army Air Field, about 10 mi (16 km) to the west for conversion training onto operational types. Consequently, Tuskegee became the only Army installation performing all four phases of pilot training at a single location. Initial planning called for 500 personnel in residence at a time. By mid-1942, over six times that many were stationed at Tuskegee, even though only two squadrons were training there.
Tuskegee Army Airfield was a replica of already-existing airfields reserved for training white pilots, such as Maxwell Field, only 40 miles (64 km) distant. With African American contractors McKissack and McKissack, Inc. in charge of the contract, 2,000 workmen from their company, the Alabama Works Progress Administration, and the U.S. Army built the airfield in only six months. The construction was budgeted at $1,663,057. The airmen were placed under the command of Captain Benjamin O. Davis, Jr., one of only two black line officers then serving.
War poster featuring a Tuskegee Airman
During training, the 99th Fighter Squadron was commanded by white and Puerto Rican officers, beginning with Major James Ellison. Ellison made great progress in organizing the construction of the facilities needed for the military program at Tuskegee. However, he was transferred on 12 January 1942, reputedly because of his insistence that his African American sentries and Military Police had police authority over local Caucasian civilians.
His successor, Colonel Frederick von Kimble, then oversaw operations at the Tuskegee airfield. Contrary to new Army regulations, Kimble maintained segregation on the field in deference to local customs in the state of Alabama, a policy that was resented by the airmen. Later that year, the Air Corps replaced Kimble. His replacement had been the director of instruction at Tuskegee Army Airfield, Major Noel F. Parrish. Counter to the prevalent racism of the day, Parrish was fair and open-minded and petitioned Washington to allow the Tuskegee Airmen to serve in combat.
The strict racial segregation the U.S. Army required gave way in the face of the requirements for complex training in technical vocations. Typical of the process was the development of separate African American flight surgeons to support the operations and training of the Tuskegee Airmen. Before the development of this unit, no U.S. Army flight surgeons had been black. Training of African American men as aviation medical examiners was conducted through correspondence courses until 1943, when two black physicians were admitted to the U.S. Army School of Aviation Medicine at Randolph Field, Texas. This was one of the earliest racially integrated courses in the U.S. Army. Seventeen flight surgeons served with the Tuskegee Airmen from 1941 through 1949. At that time, the typical tour of duty for a U.S. Army flight surgeon was four years. Six of these physicians lived under field conditions during operations in North Africa, Sicily, and Italy. The chief flight surgeon to the Tuskegee Airmen was Vance H. Marchbanks, Jr., M.D., who was a childhood friend of Benjamin O. Davis, Jr.
The accumulation of washed-out cadets at Tuskegee and the propensity of other commands to “dump” African American personnel on the post exacerbated the difficulties of administering Tuskegee. A shortage of jobs for them made these enlisted men a drag on Tuskegee’s housing and culinary departments. Trained officers were also left idle, as the plan to shift African American officers into command slots stalled, and white officers not only continued to hold command, but were joined by additional white officers assigned to the post. One rationale behind the non-assignment of trained African American officers was stated by the commanding officer of the Army Air Forces, General Henry “Hap” Arnold: “Negro pilots cannot be used in our present Air Corps units since this would result in Negro officers serving over white enlisted men creating an impossible social situation.”
The 99th was finally considered ready for combat duty by April 1943. It shipped out of Tuskegee on 2 April, bound for North Africa, where it would join the 33rd Fighter Group and its commander, Colonel William W. Momyer. Given little guidance from battle-experienced pilots, the 99th’s first combat mission was to attack the small strategic volcanic island of Pantelleria in the Mediterranean Sea to clear the sea lanes for the Allied invasion of Sicily in July 1943. The air assault on the island began on 30 May 1943. The 99th flew its first combat mission in June 1943. The surrender of the garrison of 11,121 Italians and 78 Germans due to air attack was the first of its kind.
Eight Tuskegee Airmen in front of a P-40 fighter aircraft
The assignment to a predominantly ground attack role prevented the 99th from engaging in air-to-air combat. The unit was later criticized for not shooting down enemy aircraft; Congressional hearings were held on this perceived failure, with the aim of disbanding the squadron. However, the 99th moved on to Sicily and received a Distinguished Unit Citation for its performance in combat.
By the spring of 1944, more graduates were ready for combat, and the all-black 332nd Fighter Group had been sent overseas with three fighter squadrons: The 100th, 301st and 302nd. Under the command of Colonel Davis, the squadrons were moved to mainland Italy, where the 99th Fighter Squadron, assigned to the group on 1 May 1944, joined them on 6 June at Ramitelli Airfield, near Termoli, on the Adriatic coast. From Ramitelli, the 332nd Fighter Group escorted Fifteenth Air Force heavy strategic bombing raids into Czechoslovakia, Austria, Hungary, Poland, and Germany.
Flying escort for heavy bombers, the 332nd earned an impressive combat record. The Allies called these airmen “Red Tails” or “Red-Tail Angels,” because of the distinctive crimson paint predominantly applied on the tail section of the unit’s aircraft.
Pilots of the 332nd Fighter Group, “Tuskegee Airmen” at Ramitelli Airfield, Italy; from left to right, Lt. Dempsey W. Morgan, Lt. Carroll S. Woods, Lt. Robert H. Nelron, Jr., Captain Andrew D. Turner, and Lt. Clarence P. Lester
A B-25 bomb group, the 477th Bombardment Group, was forming in the U.S., but was not able to complete its training in time to see action. The 99th Fighter Squadron after its return to the United States became part of the 477th, redesignated the 477th Composite Group.
Active air units
The 99th Pursuit Squadron and the 332nd Fighter Group were the only black air units that saw active combat during World War II. The 332nd, which was a combination of the 100th, the 301st, and the 302nd squadrons, first saw active combat in January 1944. The dive-bombing and strafing missions under Lieutenant Colonel Davis, Jr. were considered to be highly successful. Following a change in its mission to strategic bomber escort, the 99th was added to the 332nd in July 1944.
In May 1942, the 99th Pursuit Squadron was renamed the 99th Fighter Squadron. It earned three Distinguished Unit Citations (DUC) during World War II. The DUCs were for operations at Pantelleria and Tunisia from May 30 – June 11, 1943, Monastery Hill near Cassino from May 12–14, 1944, and for successfully fighting off German jet aircraft on March 24, 1945. The mission was the longest bomber escort mission throughout the war. The 332nd also flew missions in Sicily, Anzio, Normandy, the Rhineland, the Po Valley and Rome-Arno and others. Pilots of the 99th once set a record for destroying five enemy aircraft in less than four minutes.
Individual pilots of the 332nd Fighter Group also earned approximately 1000 awards and decorations. Their missions took them to Rome-Arno, Normandy, Rhineland, Romania, Northern and Southern France, and the American Theater Campaigns. The 332nd first saw combat in February 1944. Throughout various engagements over the course of the war, the 332nd was credited with destroying at least: 112 airborne enemy aircraft, 150 aircraft on the ground, over 600 train cars, over 40 barges/boats, and a German Navy destroyer. The destruction of the Navy destroyer was the first such accomplishment of its time. The ship concerned had been classified as a destroyer by the Italian Navy, before being converted down by the Germans into a torpedo boat. It was attacked on the 25th of June 1944. The German Navy decommissioned it on the 8th of November 1944, and finally scuttled it on the 5th of February 1945.
Although never seeing combat, the 477th Bombardment Group was activated in 1943, and was not completely manned until March 1945. The 553rd Fighter Replacement Training Squadron was also activated in 1943. Its mission was to provide replacement pilots for the 332nd. Both units began training at Selfridge Field, Michigan, but because of an unhealthy racial atmosphere in the local area the 477th was moved to Godman Field, Kentucky, then to Freeman Field, Indiana, while the 553rd was moved to Walterboro, South Carolina, where it was eventually deactivated. Its members were transferred to form a squadron of the Air Base Group. From its inception, the 477th was plagued with problems. When activated the unit had no established cadre to break-in new pilots and had no navigators/bombardiers to man crews. Within one year the 477th had 38 squadron or unit moves. In June 1945, the 477th was redesignated as the 477th Composite Group.
Instrument certificate for Tuskegee Airman Robert M. Glass, signed by Parrish
The Tuskegee Airmen compiled the following combat records:
Their operational aircraft were, in succession: P-40 Warhawk, Bell P-39 Airacobra, Republic P-47 Thunderbolt and North American P-51 Mustang fighter aircraft.
Tuskegee Airmen bomber units
With African American fighter pilots being trained successfully, the Army Air Force now came under political pressure from the NAACP and other civil rights organizations to organize a bomber unit. There could be no defensible argument that the quota of 100 African American pilots in training at one time, or 200 per year out of a total of 60,000 American aviation cadets in annual training, represented the service potential of 13 million African Americans.[N 6]
On 13 May 1943, the 616th Bombardment Squadron was established as the initial subordinate squadron of the 477th Bombardment Group. The squadron was activated on 1 July 1943, only to be deactivated on 15 August 1943. By September 1943, the number of washed-out cadets on base had surged to 286, with few of them working. In January 1944, the 477th Bombardment Group was reactivated. At the time, the usual training cycle for a bombardment group took three to four months. The 477th would eventually contain four medium bomber squadrons. Slated to comprise 1,200 officers and enlisted men, the unit would operate 60 North American B-25 Mitchell bombers. [N 7] The 477th would go on to encompass three more bomber squadrons–the 617th Bombardment Squadron, the 618th Bombardment Squadron, and the 619th Bombardment Squadron. The 477th was anticipated to be ready for action in November 1944.
The home field for the 477th was Selfridge Field, located outside Detroit, however, other bases would be used for various types of training courses. Twin-engine pilot training began at Tuskegee while transition to multi-engine pilot training was at Mather Field, California. Some ground crews trained at Mather before rotating to Inglewood, California. Gunners learned to shoot at Eglin Field, Florida. Bombers-navigators learned their trades at Hondo Army Air Field and Midland Field, Texas, or at Roswell, New Mexico. Training of the new African American crewmen also took place at Sioux Falls, South Dakota; Lincoln, Nebraska and Scott Field, Belleville, Illinois. Once trained, the air and ground crews would be spliced into a working unit at Selfridge.
The new group’s first Commanding Officer was Colonel Robert Selway. Like his ranking officer, Major General Frank O’Driscoll Hunter from Georgia, he was a racial segregationist. Hunter was blunt about it, saying such things as, “…racial friction will occur if colored and white pilots are trained together.” He backed Selway’s violations of Army Regulation 210-10, which forbade segregation of air base facilities. They segregated base facilities so thoroughly they even drew a line in the base theater and ordered separate seating by races. When the audience sat in random patterns as part of “Operation Checkerboard”, the movie was halted to make men return to segregated seating. African American officers petitioned base Commanding Officer William Boyd for access to the only officer’s club on base. Lieutenant Milton Henry entered the club and personally demanded his club rights; he was court-martialled for this, and discharged.
Subsequently, Colonel Boyd denied club rights to African Americans although General Hunter stepped in and promised a separate but equal club would be built for black airmen. The 477th was transferred to Godman Field, Kentucky before the club was built. They had spent five months at Selfridge but found themselves on a base a fraction of Selfridge’s size, with no air-to-ground gunnery range, and deteriorating runways that were too short for B-25 landings. Colonel Selway took on the second role of Commanding Officer of Godman Field. In that capacity, he ceded Godman Field’s officer club to African American airmen. Caucasian officers used the whites-only clubs at nearby Fort Knox, much to the displeasure of African American officers.
Another irritant was a professional one for African American officers. They observed a steady flow of white officers through the command positions of the group and squadrons; these officers stayed just long enough to be “promotable” before transferring out at their new rank. This seemed to take about four months. In an extreme example, 22 year old Robert Mattern was promoted to captain, transferred into squadron command in the 477th days later, and left a month later as a major. He was replaced by another Caucasian officer. Meanwhile, no Tuskegee Airmen held command.
On 15 March 1945, the 477th was transferred to Freeman Field, on the verge of Seymour, Indiana. The white population of Freeman Field was 250 officers and 600 enlisted men. Superimposed on it were 400 African American officers and 2,500 enlisted men of the 477th and its associated units. Freeman Field had a firing range, usable runways, and other amenities useful for training. African American airmen would work in proximity with white ones; both would live in a public housing project adjacent to the base. Colonel Selway turned the non-commissioned officers out of their club and turned it into a second officers club. He then classified all white personnel as cadre, and all African Americans as trainees. One officers club became the cadre’s club. The old Non-Commissioned Officers Club, promptly sarcastically dubbed “Uncle Tom’s Cabin”, became the trainee’s officers club. At least four of the trainees had flown combat in Europe as fighter pilots, and had about four years in service. Four others had completed training as pilots, bombardiers and navigators, and may have been the only triply qualified officers in the entire Air Corps. Several of the Tuskegee Airmen had logged over 900 flight hours by this time. Nevertheless, by Colonel Selway’s fiat, they were trainees.
Off-base was no better; many businesses in Seymour would not serve African Americans. A local laundry would not wash their clothes, yet willingly laundered those of captured German soldiers.
In early April 1945, the 118th Base Unit transferred in from Godman Field; its African American personnel held orders that specified they were base cadre, not trainees. On 5 April, officers of the 477th peaceably tried to enter the whites-only Officer’s Club. Selway had been tipped off by a phone call, and had the assistant provost marshal and base billeting manager stationed at the door to refuse the 477th officers entry. The latter, a major, ordered them to leave, and took their names as a means of arresting them when they refused. It was the beginning of the Freeman Field Mutiny.
In the wake of the Freeman Field Mutiny, the 616th and 619th were disbanded and the returned 99th Fighter Squadron assigned to the 477th on 22 June 1945; it was renamed the 477th Composite Wing as a result. On 1 July 1945, Colonel Robert Selway was relieved of the Group’s command; he was replaced by Colonel Benjamin O. Davis, Jr. A complete sweep of Selway’s white staff followed, with all vacated jobs filled by African American officers. The war ended before the 477th Composite Group could get into action. The 618th Bombardment Squadron was disbanded on 8 October 1945. On 13 March 1946, the two-squadron group, supported by the 602nd Engineer Squadron (later renamed 602nd Air Engineer Squadron), the 118th Base Unit, and a band, moved to its final station, Lockbourne Field. The 617th Bombardment Squadron and the 99th Fighter Squadron disbanded on 1 July 1947, ending the 477th Composite Group. It would be reorganized as the 332nd Fighter Wing.[54