Red Tails

13 Nov

I have been lollygagging. Between my thumb and this stupid rash I have not felt up to doing much. Well, it’s not a very good excuse, but it’s the best one I can think of at the moment.

Monday evening, the 10th, a standing-room-only bunch of us went to the local library to hear a talk from one of the last surviving Tuskegee Red Tails. For those of you who have not heard of these gentlemen, they were the first black – all black – flying group in the United States, founded in 1941 by Eleanor Roosevelt and her friend Mary McLeod Bethune. At that time, the military was strictly segregated, and any blacks were cooks, broom pushers and garbage men, but these two ladies saw a great untapped potential and “convinced” poor Franklin (he didn’t stand a chance against two such determined women.) that this was all a good idea.

And it was.

There is plenty written about them on the Internet, so I won’t go into it all of it here. The gentleman who spoke to us was not himself an original Red Tail. He normally acted as an escort, but the original program had been scheduled for some time in September and had to be postponed because that speaker was ill, and then the man who was to talk to us on Monday had just gotten out of the hospital, so the escort felt enough was enough, and he did the presentation. (These men are all WWII vets, and a bit on the old and feeble side, so someone younger always accompanies them. The speaker was a retired pilot who had served in Viet Nam, Desert Storm,  and (I think) the Bosnian conflict, and was a member of a sort of axillary group.) There are also many women who qualify as Red Tails, as they worked as ground crews, repairing engines, packing parachutes, and so forth. “Flying isn’t all airplanes, y’know. You have ten men in a bomber and about forty people on the ground, backing them up, fueling planes, checking for damage, and so forth.”

It is not true that the Red Tails never lost a bomber; they did lose 27, but the average was 48, so that is not too bad a score.  The base commander had wanted the tails of the planes painted with some sort of insignia, and all they could find was red paint, so red it was. Or, he said, we could have “thinned it with white and painted them pink”.

The children in the audience were absolutely fascinated. One little girl simply could not grasp the idea that blacks and white were not allow to associate with each other. Another story was about two pilots who were grounded for some infraction, and a young man wondered out loud “how do you ground a grownup?”

The Godson, who is black, came along, rather unwillingly, although he admitted later he was glad I had insisted he join us.  He knows about the “separate but equal” policy, and asked if “you guys got all the old planes”.  The speaker said that when the U.S. entered the war, “all anybody had was old planes” but that as soon as new planes came off the assembly line, the Red Tails got them along with everybody else.

There are fifty chapters in the States, so if you ever get a chance to see one of these gentlemen before they join their lost comrades, do so. It is inspiring.

One Response to “Red Tails”

  1. Grandmommy November 14, 2014 at 12:36 am #

    Thank so much for sharing this. I always get a little misty eyed when I hear about the red tails and buffalo soldiers!

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