by Dennis Andersen, special to Aerotech News
The Task and Purpose military news site says that the betting book on discarding the “Washington Redskins” football team name is 4-to-1 in favor of replacing it with the “Red Tails,” who most aviation and military aerospace history buffs know was the nickname of the legendary Tuskegee Airmen of the 332nd Fighter Group.
The “Red Tails” blazed a trail of blood, honor and glory in the still-segregated American military. They came into being with a push from Eleanor Roosevelt, and had to prove they were equal to any other American in service.
If they could not enter Officer’s Clubs, and if their billets, at home, and overseas in the combat theater, remained segregated and second-class, the Tuskegee fighter pilots fought a strictly first-class war. Based out of Italy, with the 15th Air Force, they finally had their co-American bomber crews asking for the “Red Tails” as escort because they earned a reputation for not losing planes to enemy action.
In Lancaster, on the Boulevard, we have our memorial to Tuskegee’s heroes, along the Aerospace Walk of Honor.
We have an even more personal tie. Our Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department Deputy, Raymundo Wilson, is son of Myron “Mike” Wilson. Over the weekend, Ray posted a historical tribute that blended World War II “gun camera” film from when his dad flew with the Tuskegee Airmen.
With narration by Bishop Henry Hearns, himself a Korean War veteran, the film recounts the “Red Tails” participation in “The Berlin Mission” of March 24, 1945, the longest, biggest raid done by the Italy-based 15th Air Force.
Myron “Mike” Wilson died 19 years ago, but is not forgotten.
During the raid, the storied Tuskegee pilots of the 332nd Fighter Group earned Distinguished Unit Citation, for shooting down three of the Nazis’ most formidable aircraft, the Messerschmitt 262 jet fighter.
Everyone is flying, altitudes of 20,000 feet and up, with oxygen, and it is exhausting. The 262, one of the first jets, flew 100 mph faster than the propeller aircraft. Too down one was opportunity, matched with skill, visual acuity, strength, and management of terror.
Earl “Lane, and I shared in one,” the credited shoot-down of the Nazi jet,” Myron Wilson said in an interview 30 years ago.
Raymundo Wilson’s father returned to an America that would take nearly another 20 years to pass Civil Rights legislation, and he had such difficulty finding acceptance as an African-American pilot, that he sought other endeavors, worked hard, and raised a splendid family.
A half-century after they made movies about these heroes, “Tuskegee Airmen,” starring Laurence Fishburne, and “Red Tails,” produced by George Lucas. Raymundo Wilson noted Lucas had to put up his own money to get the movie made.
It demands a little history, and some imagination to grasp what this means. By the time the “Red Tails” earned their bomber escort mission, they were flying the P-51 Mustang, possibly WWII’s best piston-engine fighter. On arrival in Italy, they were relegated to flying older P-40 Warhawks, and strafing Nazi supply trains and convoys.
But more escorts were needed for the B-24 Liberators and B-17 “heavies,” the bombers flying over the Italian and Swiss Alps to bomb Austria and Germany. The Red Tails showed they could get it done against the Nazi Luftwaffe.
Our recently departed World War II hero, Charles “Charlie” Rader, awarded the Silver Star for rescuing his own B-17 crew, flying with the 15th Air Force. “We loved the Red Tails,” he told me shortly before he died at 95, right around Christmas 2019. He told me, cheerfully, “They never lost a bomber.”
The “Red Tails” are emblematic of African-Americans demonstrating honor in war, and courage in the fight for dignity and respect.
Editor’s note: Dennis Anderson is a licensed clinical social worker. An Army veteran paratrooper, he covered the Iraq War as an embedded reporter. At High Desert Medical Group, he works on veterans and community mental health initiatives.