EAST COAST CHAPTER
TUSKEGEE AIRMEN INC.
Critical pressure from the African American press, the church, the NAACP, the Urban League et. al., and Mrs. Roosevelt persuaded President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the War Department and the US Army Air Corps to activate, train and deploy an African American Air Combat group, with support units against the Axis forces during World War II. Their performance contributed to victory in WW II and prompted the US Air Force to integrate itself and so increase efficiency and effectiveness . The air force success led to the integration of all the US Armed Forces and eventually to the integration of America.
The most fitting tribute to the Tuskegee Airmen is inscribed on the statue erected in their honor at the US Air Force Academy:
They rose from adversity through competence, courage and commitment and capacity to serve America on silver wings and set a standard few will transcend.
Dr. Ivan Ware - Board Member, East Coast Chapter Tuskegee Airmen, Inc. and Designated Original Tuskegee Airman (DOTA)
by Doug “Snake” Byrd
A 2008 graduate of the East Coast Chapter, Tuskegee Airmen Youth in Aviation Program, I am currently a junior at Emery Riddle Aeronautical University (Andrews AFB Campus). Today, I hold my private pilot’s certificate and instrument rating, and have logged over 318 hours of flight time. I am about a week away from my commercial license and I will pursue my certified flight instructor license.
My goal is to become an airshow performer, flying aerobatics around the world. In doing that, I will spread the word of the Tuskegee Airmen and do my best to keep the legacy alive, promoting peace and understanding while setting a positive example for the youth of the world. In my first aerobatic competition I placed first in primary, and hope to someday make to U.S. Nationals and place first in unlimited.
I owe all my success and future success to the men and women of the Tuskegee Airmen and the East Coast Chapter. If it weren’t for their undying support, I would not be here as I am today. The Tuskegee Airmen essentially built and paved the runway that I have the privilege to take off from today, and have inspired many others to follow in their wake. We are all flying in formation together, following the superb, prestigious example that the Tuskegee Airmen have set.
by Patricia E. Talbert Smith
My dad, Major Edward J. Talbert (Res. Ret.), is a man of few words. He leads by example, and what a leader he is. He has taught me how to live a happy life, which I can sum up with a few of his beliefs.
Believe in God. My dad knows that all things come from God, and he knows to count his blessings—even the ones that might not seem like blessings at the time. In a prayer he once wrote:
There have been many obstacles placed in my path as I attempted to reach my life goals. Some of these were the result of my own doings, while others were from various sources…In my early years, I learned that a few words to You asking for help made a difference…After accomplishing my goals, there has always been time aside to thank You for Your blessings.
At age 90, my dad still prays every night before going to bed.
Family comes first. My dad would do anything for his family. I still marvel at how this quiet, strong man was the best babysitter my now 22-year-old daughter ever had. When he found out his first grandchild was on the way, he called me one day on the phone. He said, “You know, this is my first grandbaby. I don’t think just anyone should take care of him or her. I want to be your babysitter.” And he was—for the first 18 months of Courtney’s life! He knew more about her than I did, and they STILL call each other “Best Friend!” His patience, devotion, love, and excellent care have given her such a precious gift.
True love always prevails. My dad truly enjoyed his assignment with the 332nd Fighter Group at Lockbourne AFB in Columbus, OH from 1948 to 1950. He has wonderful stories from this time about Gen. Davis, the work he did as a Supply Officer, and the friends he made. My favorite story is about the last two weeks he spent all alone on that huge base, as the officer in charge of turning the keys over to the National Guard in July 1950 to signal the beginning of the integration of the Air Force. And why was he not being assigned to other bases in other countries with his friends? That was because my mom realized that she didn’t want to leave her teaching career, her family in Anacostia, and her lifelong friends in Washington. My dad decided to leave his military career behind because he loved her so, and he’s never looked back. They will celebrate 64 years of marriage in April!
Always do your best. My dad has never done anything less—ever! Whether it was his trailblazing role as an Area Branch Librarian with the Prince George’s County Memorial Library System, his commitment to the Army Reserves, his faithful attendance and leadership first at Bethlehem Baptist Church and later at Allen Chapel A.M.E. Church, his volunteer service at the Spauldings Branch Library, his care of my grandmother and her home, or his line dancing, swimming, and computer classes over the years, my dad has always given 150%. And this has made me follow suit in my personal and professional life.
Trust in the Lord. When I had complications carrying Courtney, I fretted during my three months of bed rest that I would lose her. I did everything the doctors said and took my worries to the Lord. But somehow, I couldn’t leave them there! My dad said early in the pregnancy, “The baby will be fine.” And she absolutely was!! When I developed a rare and deadly cancer in 2009, he said again simply, “You’ll be fine.” Not wanting to let him or the rest of my family down, I threw myself into my recovery and I AM fine—with probably more energy and joy in my life than ever before. I also have no doubt that his nightly prayers were once again instrumental in blessing me. When you truly put your trust in the Lord, somehow they always do!
Travel often. My mom and dad have always traveled. There were cross-country trips, campsites, flights to Europe, and many cruises. Dad’s favorite spot on earth, however, remains Cape Cod. I, too, adore Cape Cod with my folks, but I think I love France even more, having lived in there for a year and a half over 30 years ago. My daughter is living in Nice, France now as a teaching assistant, and I suspect that we were both inspired by Dad’s black and white shot of the beach at Biarritz, where he studied just after the war.
Invest in your children. My folks have literally given me the world, sacrificing so much for me so I could attend National Cathedral School, Trinity College, and the University of Illinois. They made my education a priority over material things, as they understood that with it, I would be able to do anything. We have tried to “pay it forward” with our daughter, and hope that she will do the same with her children.
Take care of yourself. Dad has always been vigilant about eating right, exercising and taking only the medications you must. He gave up smoking his pipe in the 60s, and while he enjoys an occasional glass of white wine, never overdoes on anything. He is at a healthy weight and looks just great!
Laugh! Laugh at funny jokes, at funny situations, and most importantly, at yourself! And he never lets me forget that a little sarcasm sprinkled in can be funny, too. I learned last year that my cooking is a little different from what Dad is used to eating. One day, I was getting exasperated and finally asked him, “Would it KILL you to eat this egg-white omelet?” His answer? “It might!”
Be humble. Much like David in the Bible, my dad practices humility and believes that you should never, ever “toot your own horn”. Part of that is, perhaps, generational (You just did what you had to do to survive the Depression, WWII, and segregation!), but a big part of that is also my dad. Those who really matter (God and you) know what you’ve done, and that’s enough. It wasn’t until 2006 that I learned that Dad had even been a part of the Tuskegee Experience. He never spoke of what he did as miraculous or groundbreaking. In fact, it took a military parent introducing Dad (“the principal’s father”) at an event at our little parish day school for me to begin to understand the context and the full importance of the roles that all the men and women of Tuskegee played in moving our country forward.
To say that I am proud of my dad would be an understatement. And to say that I am honored to be his daughter and so very proud to carry his legacy forward would just embarrass him. So instead, I will simply say, “Thank you, Dad … for everything!"
Thousands of British West Indians served in the British armed forces during World War II. When Britain declared war on September 19, 1939, the Royal Air Force (RAF) itself was compelled to overcome the prejudices of the time. After the defeat of France in 1940 and the retreat of the British Expeditionary Force at Dunkirk, Britain found itself in dire straits. With advocacy by progressive Britons and British West Indians who spoke out against segregation, the RAF, to its credit, integrated its ranks. Around 7,000 British West Indians rallied to freedom’s cause and served as fighter pilots, bomb aimers, air gunners, ground staff and administration. No other colonies, or group of nations, contributed more airmen to the RAF during World War II. This is even more remarkable, and their commitment more profound, given the small populations of the islands. Several Africans from Ghana, Nigeria and Sierra Leone also became officers in the RAF, with the most notable being RAF Flight Lieutenant Johnny Smythe of Sierra Leone, who was shot down over Germany on his 28th mission and survived imprisonment in the famous Stalag Luft One.
The British West Indian Airmen, like their Tuskegee Airmen allies who served in the US Army Air Corps, came from societies that had once set severe limits on the liberty of those of African descent. After the war, both the Tuskegee Airmen and the British West Indian veterans — in particular those from the RAF — became leaders for beneficial social change for their countries. Their successes spurred the cause of self-determination in the British West Indies, and assisted the independence of Africa. RAF Pilot Officer Errol Barrow led his island of Barbados into independence. Flight Lieutenant Dudley Thompson became Jamaica’s Minister of Foreign Affairs after successfully defending Kenya’s Jomo Kenyatta during that country’s independence struggle. Thompson also assisted the formation of Tanzania’s Independence Party led by Julius Nyerere. Pilot Officer Milton Cato became the Premier of St. Vincent. RAF Squadron Leader Phillip Louis Ulric Cross, DSO, DFC of Trinidad & Tobago became a judge in Ghana, a special emissary of Kwame Nkrumah’s government to Congo’s new President Patrice Lumumba, and Attorney General of Cameroon. He finally retired as a judge from his nation’s highest court.
And RAF Flight Lieutenant Cy Grant of Guyana, an internationally known thinker, writer and entertainer, became the first person of African descent to have his own show on BBC television. Grant’s legacy was the creation of caribbeanaircrew-ww2.com, along with webmaster Hans Luutwik, the son of the Dutch farmer who assisted him after his Lancaster Bomber was shot down over Holland. His capture in 1943 in the uniform of the RAF caused consternation, as his presence contradicted the Nazi philosophy that persons of African origin were subhuman and incapable of handling aircraft. Grant’s photograph was shown on the front cover July 1943 issue of the Nazi party’s national newspaper, Volkischer Beobatcher, with the caption “We have captured an officer of the Royal Air Force of unknown race.”
By overcoming barriers erected by man’s inhumanity to man, these veterans — like the Tuskegee Airmen — ushered in a new and better world. Their sacrifices opened the way for others to rise. And so, today, we celebrate those who, by taking flight in freedom’s cause, allow humanity the opportunity to pay tribute to the Second Inauguration of President Barack Obama.
This historical rendition, in salute of the Tuskegee Airmen and their allied British West Indian flyers that volunteered to serve in the Royal Air Force in World War II, was brought to you with the compliments of the West Indian American Military Members Association of Andrews Air Force Base.
Contributed by Janet Jones
When I think of my father, Rev. Dr. Milton Holmes, I am reminded of the passion and fervor with which he has embraced life. I realize that much of his character and principles can be traced back to his history as a Tuskegee Airman. He has embedded some of those lessons and methodologies in those he’s taught, trained and raised.
What excited my father most upon his arrival in Class 46-A was the common goal of the entire Tuskegee experience — the pursuit of excellence. Their academic discipline was administered with the same precision as their aeronautical training. To him education was the catalyst for achievement with dignity and integrity. He instilled that principle in me. It was understood that I would graduate from college and strive for success for the remainder of my life. To think otherwise was unacceptable.
The Tuskegee Airmen, according to my father, were a loyal and protective group, emphasizing the importance of teamwork. They were of the mindset, “All for one, one for all.” Those in combat carried that ideology into the European theatre during World War II, where they were assigned to protect the very men who hated them the most — their fellow White American officers. America was their home, and they were proud to serve and defend their country; yet, they were treated worse than the prisoners of war. It was as though they were in the midst of two battles — the world’s and their own.
World War II ended before my father could be deployed. Therefore, he was discharged from the Army Air Corps embittered and determined to disarm racial discrimination with the same passion others employed to strengthen it. He involved himself in the Civil Rights movement. He challenged corporations and politicians in his fight for racial equality, whether as Vice President of the National Alliance of Postal and Federal Employees, the first Black industrial union, or as an Equal Employment Opportunity Specialist, where he won many cases for minorities who faced discrimination. He walked picket lines and participated in the March on Washington.
I’ve watched my father, Dr. Milton Holmes, remain loyal to those who have helped him throughout his life. I’ve witnessed him encourage hundreds of young people to become educated in medicine and law because that was the key to stepping on the neck of racism and poverty. I’ve driven with him to deliver food baskets to the poor, regardless of their color. I’ve sat in the church he pastored and listened to him assure his congregation that God loved them and, to Him, they were equal to all ethnicities.
My father continues to reminisce about his fellow comrades, the Tuskegee Airmen, and the role he played as one of them. I am filled with a sense of pride and humility that he is part of the core of American history.
I have been inspired by Rev. Dr. Milton Holmes to live life with passion, compassion, and faithfulness, pursuing knowledge along the way. I realize that while I may not be mentioned in history books, nor be discovered through archeological artifacts, I, too, am a part of the core of American history through his legacy.
by Gabriel J. Christian, Esq.
At one of our last East Coast Chapter Tuskegee Airmen, Inc. (ECCTAI) meetings of 2012, the idea of a Christmas party to honor those who served in that famed unit in World War II was raised by Dennis McDuffie. Time seemed short, was the opinion of our President, Trent Dudley (Lt. Col., USAF, ret.). It was in that moment, that ECCTAI Board of Directors member Diane Mohr, sidled up to me and whispered, “Gabe, let us salute the Tuskegee Airmen at the President’s Second Inauguration. It is also Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday, and January 2013 is the 150th Anniversary of President Abraham Lincoln’s 1863 Emancipation Proclamation. There will never be another opportunity for such a convergence of events.” Daughter of a Tuskegee Airman and a historian in her own right, she was bang on target. The stars seemed aligned. We needed no further convincing.
In seeking to immortalize the example of those men and women (women served as nurses and administrative staff for the Tuskegee Airmen during World War II) for generations yet unborn, one must first pay close attention to the mental conditioning that allowed those heroes to shrug off the insults of second-class citizenship and forge ahead amidst the tempest. African Americans are a deeply spiritual people; possessed of an indomitable faith from which hope springs eternal. What else accounts for the resilience of the African American church, but that faith? Many a prayer was offered for the success of the Tuskegee pilot training program for those who sought to ensure our freedom against Adolph Hitler’s fascist tide, which brought racial cleansing of “subhuman races” in its wake. It was such an unconquerable thirst for freedom, borne on the wings of faith in the belief that “we shall overcome” that birthed the Tuskegee Airmen. A brief recounting of African Americans in aviation is necessary here.
Jean Jacques Bullard was the first African American military flyer known to history. Denied by an opportunity to serve his own country, Bullard joined the French Foreign Legion during World War I, was wounded in infantry combat and was awarded the Croix de Guerre. Upon recuperation he learnt to fly, and became a flyer in the Lafayette Flying Corps under the French Aeronautique Militaire. He flew twenty missions and shot down two German aircraft in that war. The postwar period saw the rise of famed female aviatrix Bessie Coleman and the legendary Hubert Fauntleroy Julian (of Grenada) the so-called Black Eagle. With the epic flight of Charles Lindbergh across the Atlantic on May 20–21, 1927, it was the dream of many an American youngster to take to the air. A young Benjamin Davis, future leader of the famed Tuskegee Airmen 99th Pursuit Squadron, recalls the thrill of soaring through the DC skies when his father paid a barnstorming pilot to take his son up for a spin during an air show at Bolling Field. In the 1930s African Americans started flight clubs, and William J. Powell — a World War I US Army veteran — graduated as a pilot and aeronautical engineer. He went on to build his own planes in what was the first black-owned aircraft factory. While that factory went bankrupt during the Great Depression, his work spurred others to stick with it.
However, racial discrimination prevented blacks from joining the US Army Air Corps. Such racial prejudice was only overcome by the staunch advocacy of the National Association of Colored People (NAACP) led by Walter White, and Civil Rights leaders, such as A. Phillip Randolph of the Pullman Car Porters Union and Judge William H. Hastie, who fought relentlessly against the racially discriminatory Jim Crow laws. Their efforts persuaded President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s administration to relent. On April 3, 1939 Appropriations Bill Public Law 18, designated funds to train African American pilots. By March 19 1941, the 99th Pursuit Squadron was activated at Chanute Field, in Rantoul, IL. The Tuskegee program itself was formally launched in June 1941, with training at Moton Field, AL adjacent to the Tuskegee Institute. which had been founded by Booker T. Washington. The Airmen were placed under the command of Captain Benjamin O. Davis, only the fourth black graduate of the US Military Academy at West Point up until that time. When war came with the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, African Americans rallied to the defense of their country.
We all know that, despite the U.S. War Department’s misgivings about their ability to fly, the Tuskegee Airmen finally saw combat in the skies over Europe. During their war service in World War II, the Tuskegee Airmen covered themselves in glory. In all, 992 pilots trained in Tuskegee from 1941 to 1946. Of the 450 were deployed overseas, 150 lost their lives in accidents or combat. They received three Distinguished Unit Citations, one Silver Star, 96 Distinguished Flying Crosses, 14 Bronze Stars, 744 Air medals and 8 Purple Hearts. The unit destroyed 112 enemy aircraft in air combat and 150 on the ground. In addition the unit sunk a Nazi destroyer, and 40 assorted enemy boats and barges, as well as destroying 950 rail cars and trucks. The success of the Tuskegee Airmen added impetus to the move to desegregate the US Armed Forces. On July 26, 1948, President Harry S. Truman signed Executive Order 9981, ending segregation in the military.
Overcoming adversity in pursuit of freedom is an integral part of the American story. What glory resides in that quest for a more perfect union can be seen in President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation of January 1, 1863, which played only a partial role in abolishing slavery in the Confederate states then in rebellion. However, the Emancipation Proclamation formed the basis for the 13th Amendment, which outlawed slavery in stating that:
Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.
Unfortunately, due to the post Civil War rise of Jim Crow, it took another century — and the work of the Tuskegee Airmen, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Civil Rights Movement — to make real the promise of the spirit of 1776 that “All men are created equal.”
Such is the genesis of American Glory! It is a story of African Americans, allied in noble cause with other progressive Americans of all colors, who worked to build a democracy. That coalition of the conscious led to President Barack Obama’s election in 2008 and re-election in 2012.
Our challenge now is to increase the number of women and minorities in aerospace sciences. In times to come, competence in mathematics and the sciences will be critical to our very survival as a species. Where are the aviation or aerospace science clubs in our local schools? We must form them. Are African Americans partnering with African countries to promote aircraft manufacturing or aerospace sciences? The Tuskegee Airmen were studious, honed their skills to compete against all comers, and performed as one coherent team. So too, must we all. We must advise our young, that it is time to set aside smart phones and video game consoles where those items are not tools with which to foster our rise, but mere distractions or impediments to our forward march. We must master the sciences, alongside relationship, leadership and team building, in the spirit of those heroes we celebrate today. In so doing, we enhance our competitive edge. It must be our mission then to complete the unfinished tasks of the Tuskegee Airmen by promoting STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) education in our schools, without which we cannot build a dynamic, innovative, entrepreneurial and competitive 21st Century economy.
Our obstacle today is not so much racially restrictive covenants as it is a reluctance to foster new alliances, seize the many opportunities at hand, and emulate the exemplary conduct of those who laid the foundation for our current accomplishments. May we, each of us, commit to joining a Tuskegee Airmen chapter, mentoring at a neighborhood school, or promoting the pursuit of science education by our youth — in particular computer and aerospace sciences. The East Coast Chapter of the Tuskegee Airmen has a Youth in Aviation Program (YIAP) that can benefit from boosters, tutors, and sponsors. We welcome all to join with us and make a contribution to nation building. In so doing, we shall grant greater meaning to those few we honor during this American Glory Salute during President Obama’s Second Inauguration. Though frail in body, the Tuskegee Airmen are forever brave of heart. They are the last of that contingent that reported for duty when war came. We may never see the likes of them again. It is therefore right and proper that we salute them for having braced themselves to their duties, at Mankind’s darkest hour. May we always remember them, as we commit ourselves to taking action in conformity with that glorious heritage.
Gabriel J. Christian, Esq., is the Historian of the East Coast Chapter of the Tuskegee Airmen, Inc., and newly elected Parliamentarian (2012). A Maryland trial lawyer, he is also the co-author with Dr. Irving W. Andre of For King & Country: The Service of the British West Indian Military (Pont Casse Press, 2009).
By Edward Leyden, Esq.
During the Second World War, more than eight million Americans were called to serve in the United States Army and its then Air Force. Through their joint exertions and sacrifices, these men and women — our own parents and grandparents — put an end to Hitler and the greatest evil in our civilization’s entire history.
An unquestioned elite among these brave eight million were those select few who ultimately became the 100th Fighter Group — the legendary Tuskegee Airmen. Even before facing and defeating the most adept pilots and leading-edge planes the Luftwaffe, in its desperate quest for survival, could throw at them, the men of the 100th had to first face and defeat the oppressive morass of racism and bigotry. From both battles, these courageous few emerged victorious and wreathed in American Glory. Indeed, it is no exaggeration to suggest that the Civil Rights movement took its first deliberate and successful steps in the early 1940s and in Tuskegee.
As the proud son of my late father, who as a member of the 603 Tank Destroyer Battalion, and then, the communications staff of General Patton’s Third U.S. Army, stood arm-in-arm with the men of the 100th in defeating Hitler, I salute the brave warriors who are the Tuskegee Airmen. May their legend never die!
by Dr. Christine Warnke
As a child growing up in the Washington Metropolitan area, I, too, felt the ugliness of discrimination. My mother emigrated from Greece and my family felt the sting of prejudice because my mother’s accent was “different” than that of our all American “white tower” neighborhood mothers. Compounding the prejudice for my family and me was the fact that I was bi-lingual. While my native language is English, I spent my early childhood years in South America and spoke Spanish as fluently as English. Discrimination was evident even at my elementary school – just one mile from the border of the Maryland-DC line. As a child, I saw what harm can be imposed, for I certainly experienced it firsthand. My father, a native South Dakotan, had no prejudices. He taught his three children to be tolerant and respectful of everyone no matter what and, we lived by this creed.
When I started to pursue my doctoral dissertation and focused on Greek immigration to Washington, DC from l890–1940, I interviewed many of the earliest immigrant newcomers who all recalled the Ku Klux Klan’s unnerving presence in the heart of our Nation’s Capital. Everyone was a target of discrimination, but despite these fears, the European settlers found friendship and mutual support with their African American alley-house neighbors. They grew stronger because of these alliances and forged bi-cultural bonds to the extent that some African Americans actually learned to speak Greek.
While watching the movie The Help, I was reminded again of the insults and atrocities that African Americans women and men had to endure in the l940s and l950s. I also understand that in order to survive such indignations, one needs to have outlets to express one’s identity — whether it is through the written words of “Minnie” in The Help or on the battlefields fighting for the American flag.
During their time, the Tuskegee Airmen exemplified the fact that one’s circumstances in life do not stifle the will to overcome such barriers. The Tuskegee Airmen served their nation with distinction, bravery, and courage despite the deep-seated prejudices they had to endure.
Tuskegee Airmen distinguished themselves by their service to the nation and, as such, created a ripple effect on the African American community and inspiring our youth to pursue their ambitions and dreams in ways that their forefathers could never have realized. The seeds of courage planted by these trailblazing airmen will continue to sprout roots of steel and perseverance for generations to come.
Dr. Christine Warnke currently serves on the Board of Advisors to the Smithsonian Institution of National African Art. She is he Senior Governmental Affairs Advisor to Hogan Lovells LLP. In 2012, Dr. Warnke was elected as a Washington, DC citywide delegate to the Democratic Convention. In Charlotte, NC and for two prior Democratic Conventions, she served as a Superdelegate. Dr. Warnke is the host of a weekly program, The Next Word, on Channel 16 in Montgomery County, MD. MCC TV is one of the most successful local cable stations in the country today.
EAST COAST CHAPTER
TUSKEGEE AIRMEN, INC.®
P.O. Box 8234Washington, DC 20032-8234