Tuskegee Airman shares his story of serving with distinction

Discussion in 'US Units' started by spider, Mar 9, 2011.

  1. spider

    spider Very Senior Member

    Tuskegee Airman shares his story of serving with distinction

    Feb 24, 2011
    By Sarah Olaciregui, 66th Air Base Group Public Affairs

    HANSCOM AIR FORCE BASE, Mass. -- During World War II, the U.S. military was racially segregated, reflecting American society and law at that time. An experiment in the Army Air Forces, however, showed that given equal opportunity and training, African-Americans could fly in, command and support combat units as well as anyone.

    James Sheppard was one of the men selected to be a part of the experimental group that came to be known as the Tuskegee Airmen. He was invited by the local chapter of the Tuskegee Airmen Institute, with support from the African American Heritage Month committee, to share his story Feb. 17, here.

    Sheppard was born in New York City in 1924. As a boy, he said he always liked to see planes flying overhead.

    "My father knew I was interested in airplanes at a young age," Sheppard said. "One time, a black civilian pilot came to the church we attended, so I went to go meet him and hear him speak. It was at that time I learned there were a lot of black civilian pilots and had been for a long time."

    Sheppard joined the Army Air Forces in 1942, and became an aviation mechanic. He was assigned to the 100th Fighter Squadron, based at Tuskegee Army Air Field in Tuskegee, Ala., where he eventually rose to the rank of staff sergeant.

    During his presentation, Sheppard spoke about his experiences as a Tuskegee Airman.

    Before joining the service he knew there were other African-American civilian pilots flying as mercenaries for other countries before the United States entered World War II. He knew it was possible for black people to succeed as pilots.

    He also described his experiences in Alabama.

    "Missus Roosevelt, the president's wife, was a big supporter of integrating blacks in the military. When she visited (Tuskegee AAF), she asked if she could fly with a black pilot," he said. "The president ordered the military to create an all-black fighter squadron. There were about 20 of us at first, but it worked so well, they created an entire squadron."

    The Tuskegee Airmen went through intense training during their time in Alabama. Before they could go overseas, Sheppard explained how they had to pass a combat readiness training assignment in Michigan.

    Sheppard then shared information about and photos of the many different planes he worked on throughout the war.

    "The P-39 (Airacobra) was a pretty good plane," he said. "We were known for the red paint scheme on the P-51 (Mustangs). That's how we got the name 'red tails.'"

    Sheppard also described what life was like in Italy. Even during war time, the men trained and went through inspections.

    "Each morning, we would launch 48 P-51s between 7 and 8 in the morning," he said. "The pilot had 18 seconds to get off the ground. If he couldn't do it, we knew something was wrong with the engine."

    The unit endured a lot of loss during the war, as well.

    "Some men experienced four D-Days before the actual D-Day took place in France," Sheppard said, referring to the invasion of Normandy. "By the fifth, the guys were trained and knew what to do."

    The men also took pride in making sure the bombers they were escorting were able to accomplish the mission, but it didn't come easy.

    "The German pilots were pretty good and they had good planes," he said. "We were losing pilots fast."

    Throughout the war, more than 100 pilots were killed or missing in action. Of those, more than 30 were prisoners of war, according to reports.

    But the losses didn't deter the Tuskegee Airmen from accomplishing the mission. They shot down 111 German planes and damaged 25 while in the air. They also damaged 123 German planes that were grounded.

    Sheppard explained how several Tuskegee Airmen even sank a German destroyer by firing the canons at the ship.

    "The Royal Navy said we sank it, but the U.S. didn't give us credit for it," said Sheppard. "I was part of a research team that worked with people at Maxwell Air Force Base (in Alabama) that helped prove we sank that destroyer. We finally got credit for it last September."

    James Sheppard speaks to a group Feb. 17, 2011, at Hanscom Air Force Base, Mass. Sheppard shared his experiences of being a crew chief and a Tuskegee Airman in the 100th Fighter Wing during World War II.
  2. popeye1975

    popeye1975 Junior Member

    The movie is a remarkably candid and un'shmaltzy' view of the story. A bit hard to get hold of but well worth the effort...
  3. PA. Dutchman

    PA. Dutchman Senior Member

    We had one of their pilots speak at our World War Two Round table meeting a couple years ago. It was one of our best meetings.

    Mrs. Roosevelt had a lot to do in helping the program get off the ground. She came to visit and made it clear she wanted to ride with one of the graduates.

    Their Officers were all white and almost died, but she got her flight with a Black pilot and the rest is history.

    It was said they never lost a bomber on a Mission the Red-tails escorted.

    Attached Files:

  4. Oldman

    Oldman Very Senior Member

    Great Post, they fought their own as well as the Germans and it showed in their achievements and lasting history
  5. PA. Dutchman

    PA. Dutchman Senior Member


    Check out the link to the War at Sea I posted a GREAT movie and a great story of the ONLY American Naval Ship a Destroyer Escort with a Black Crew. It was the USS Mason and they fought bravely as well.

    It had White officers and the Captain was a decent man who greatly appreciated and respected his crew.

    They worked well together, it is another story that no one heard about until a few years ago.

  6. Smudger Jnr

    Smudger Jnr Our Man in Berlin

    PA. Dutchman,
    It is a great pity that there was such a lot of predudice around at the time.

    You only have to look at the American's born of Japanese parents that later fought with destinction for the American Nation, after initially being denied the chance.

  7. WhiskeyGolf

    WhiskeyGolf Senior Member

    The Tuskegee Airmen - great movie!

    "The true story of the US Army's "Fighting 99th", the first squadron of African American combat fighter pilots. Against all odds, the prejudice and humiliation, the distrust and vengeful behaviour of senior white officers this squadron learned how to survive at any price. With devastating precision the black pilots downed more than 400 German aircraft without losing a single plane to enemy fire in more than 200 bomber escort missions....This is a tribute to the unsung heroes of WWII"

    Their story waited over 50 years to be told.
  8. PA. Dutchman

    PA. Dutchman Senior Member

    I agree, when the Tuskegee Airman spoke at our Round table you could hear it in his voice as though it was only yesterday that they were treated like second class citizens. Then when they came home to the USA and many to the South it was even worse nothing had changed.
  9. PA. Dutchman

    PA. Dutchman Senior Member

    Well said my friend, lets' pray sites like this one can be part of the correcting and changing of these views and prejudices.
  10. PA. Dutchman

    PA. Dutchman Senior Member


    There is a GREAT DVD called "Glory", it won several awards and it really followed the true historical record. It is the 54 TH Massachusetts Black Troops of the American Civil War.

    It was the FIRST official Black Unit and it had again White officers. Their Commander was not convinced it was going to work.

    In no time he realized these Black troops were working harder than any white troops he commanded. A Black Sgt. told him, we can not be as good as any white Unit we have to be better. In time the Commander realized they were the best troops he ever commanded.

    At first they did not pay the Black troops the same wages as white troops. The Black troops refused their pay and so did their White officers until they were paid an equal wage. They said it made their lives worth less then a white trooper.

    There is another one a true story about the First USA Navy Black Diver, the movie is Men of Honor, the real life experience of Carl Brashear, the first African-American to serve as a diver in the United States Navy.
  11. popeye1975

    popeye1975 Junior Member

    I have seen 'Glory'...another great movie. I just wish Hollywood would do more of this stuff...like 'Dances With Wolves', any film that can entertain and highlight decades of injustice and misrepresentation is a winner in my book....
  12. PA. Dutchman

    PA. Dutchman Senior Member

    How about Men of Honor that was a good story as well.
  13. WhiskeyGolf

    WhiskeyGolf Senior Member

    I agree, when the Tuskegee Airman spoke at our Round table you could hear it in his voice as though it was only yesterday that they were treated like second class citizens. Then when they came home to the USA and many to the South it was even worse nothing had changed.

    It's disgusting to think they were treated like that to start with, but even worse to think it was carried on when they returned home.

    (Just a side note - to those who haven't yet seen the movie have the tissue box handy!)
  14. PA. Dutchman

    PA. Dutchman Senior Member

    Here are three examples of what an American Black Veteran might expect when he came home after the war. If you do a Goggle search there are dozens of such stories. It was sad, wrong and things still need to be corrected. We have passed many laws but changing generations of hate and predjudice is not as easy.

    I did my basic training at Great Lakes Naval Station and I was the one of a few Yankees in the Unit. The entire unit was from the Southern US. This was in the 1960s and Yankees were always outsiders I can not imagine being a Black sailor in that Unit.


    African American veterans in the U.S.</SPAN>
    See also: Military history of African Americans
    African Americans have participated in every war fought by or within the United States. Black veterans from World War I experienced racial persecution on returning to the U.S. from overseas, particularly in Southern cities.[5] Black veterans from World War II continued to be denied equality at home despite President Harry S. Truman's desegregation of the military after World War II. Black veterans went on to play a central role in the Civil Rights movement. The National Association for Black Veterans is an organization that provides advocacy and support for African American and other minority veterans.


    Baker captured that nation’s heart in 1997 when President Bill Clinton draped the Medal of Honor around the tearful soldier’s neck. This recognition finally came 52 years after Baker led a suicidal assault that helped the Allies breach the Gothic Line and drive the German Army out of northern Italy. His white commander deserted him and his men during that battle.
    Baker became a symbol of the selfless sacrifice and courage of black soldiers who fought valiantly both to defeat the Axis powers and to gain full citizenship in the United States, which would not pass the Voting Rights Act or the Civil Rights Act for another 20 years.
    “They were denied the nation’s highest honor, but their deeds could not be denied,” Clinton said during the White House ceremony. The president made a point of quoting Baker’s personal creed, which kept the Wyoming native going during World War II and through his distinguished military career. “Give respect before you expect it. Treat people the way you want to be treated. Remember the mission. Set the example. Keep going.”


    When Culpeper native and U.S. Army veteran Sgt. George Everett Taylor was on leave in Scotland during World War II, the locals considered him a hero. More importantly, he was treated like a man.
    “When I got to Glasgow, all of my civilian friends said, ‘Welcome home, George,’” said Taylor, who lived in the city for six months before returning.
    But because of his skin color, there was largely no hero’s welcome for Taylor when he returned to America after helping to win the war.
    “I got a better welcome in Glasgow than I got in New York and Washington, D.C., when I got back,” said Taylor, his voice quivering as he recalled a time before the civil rights movement. “When I got back to D.C., I was told to go to the back of the bus.”
  15. popeye1975

    popeye1975 Junior Member

  16. popeye1975

    popeye1975 Junior Member

    I think it's important here to make the distinction between prejudice and paranoia. The treatment of African Americans, who had no say in being shipped halfway across the world to work as slaves, is markedly different to the distrust felt by many Americans to an ethnic group that represented the face of the country that attacked them apparently without a formal declaration of war. The fact that many Japanese Americans later went on to serve with courage and distinction in the ETO and North Africa shows that the paranoia was probably misplaced and premature, but understandable at the time
  17. A-58

    A-58 Not so senior Member

    Not exactly true. There were bomber losses in missions escorted by the Tuskegee Airmen. The flyers of the 99th and 332nd Squadrons were very capable, motivated and skilled pilots, and in many cases superior to other units in the USAAF. But to say that they never lost a bomber that they were escorting is pure fiction.

    The following information was taken from wiki. Read on please. Good information here.

    On 24 March 1945, during the war, the Chicago Defender said that no bomber escorted by the Tuskegee Airmen had ever been lost to enemy fire, under the headline: "332nd Flies Its 200th Mission Without Loss";[67] the article was based on information supplied by the 15th Air Force.[68][69]
    This statement was repeated for many years, and not publicly challenged, partly because the mission reports were classified for a number of years after the war. In 2004, William Holton, who was serving as the historian of the Tuskegee Airmen Incorporated, conducted research into wartime action reports.[70] Alan Gropman, a professor at the National Defense University, disputed the initial refutations of the no-loss myth, and said he researched more than 200 Tuskegee Airmen mission reports and found no bombers were lost to enemy fighters.[70] Dr. Daniel Haulman of the Air Force Historical Research Agency conducted a reassessment of the history of the unit in 2006 and early 2007. His subsequent report, based on after-mission reports filed by both the bomber units and Tuskegee fighter groups, as well as missing air crew records and witness testimony, documented 25 bombers shot down by enemy fighter aircraft while being escorted by the Tuskegee Airmen.[71]
    In a subsequent article, "The Tuskegee Airmen and the Never Lost a Bomber Myth," published in The Alabama Review and also by New South Books as an e-book, and included in a more comprehensive study regarding misconceptions about the Tuskegee Airmen released by AFHRA in July 2013, Haulman documented 27 bombers shot down by enemy aircraft while those bombers were being escorted by the 332nd Fighter Group. This total included 15 B-17s of the 483rd Bombardment Group shot down during a particularly savage air battle with an estimated 300 German fighters on 18 July 1944 that also resulted in nine kill credits and the award of five Distinguished Flying Crosses to members of the 332nd.[72] Of the 179 bomber escort missions the 332nd Fighter Group flew for the Fifteenth Air Force, the group encountered enemy aircraft on 35 of those missions and lost bombers to enemy aircraft on only seven, and the total number of bombers lost was 27. By comparison, the average number of bombers lost by the other P-51 fighter groups of the Fifteenth Air Force during the same period was 46.[73]

    A number of examples of the fighter group's losses exist in the historical record. A mission report states that on 26 July 1944: "1 B-24 seen spiraling out of formation in T/A (target area) after attack by E/A (enemy aircraft). No chutes seen to open." The Distinguished Flying Cross citation awarded to Colonel Benjamin O. Davis for the mission on 9 June 1944 noted he "so skillfully disposed his squadrons that in spite of the large number of enemy fighters, the bomber formation suffered only a few losses."[74] William Holloman was reported by the Times as saying his review of records confirmed bombers had been lost. Holloman was a member of Tuskegee Airmen Inc., a group of surviving Tuskegee pilots and their supporters, who also taught Black Studies at the University of Washington and chaired the Airmen's history committee.[70] According to the 28 March 2007 Air Force report, some bombers under 332nd Fighter Group escort protection were even shot down on the day the Chicago Defender article was published.[68] The mission reports, however, do credit the group for not losing a bomber on an escort mission for a six-month period between September 1944 and March 1945, albeit when Luftwaffe contacts were far fewer than earlier.[75]

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