A ceremony honoring 75 years of the Tuskegee Airmen experience and the great heritage of the “Red Tail” warriors from the 302nd Fighter Squadron took place March 24 during the Third Annual Tuskegee Airmen Commemoration Day at Luke Air Force Base.
The commemorative ceremony, held at the Tuskegee Airmen Memorial Air Park, highlighted the incredible bravery, commitment and expertise of the Tuskegee Airmen who signify sacrifice, the struggles of overcoming adversity in the face of racial discrimination, and a strong legacy of pioneer aviators.
About 80 people attended the ceremony including retired Lt. Col. Robert Ashby, retired Lt. Col. Asa Herring, and retired Tech. Sgt. Rudolf Silas, three of the original Tuskegee Airmen, members of the Archer-Ragsdale Arizona Chapter Tuskegee Airmen, the Honorable Jerry Weirs, Glendale mayor, and leadership from the 56th and 944th fighter wings.
During the ceremony, a wreath was laid at the base of the Red Tail by the original Tuskegee Airmen, while the Luke AFB Honor Guard performed Taps, and rendered military honors.
“The ceremony was a remembrance of what happened in the past and an opportunity to see what I think has been the most important accomplishment of the Tuskegee Airmen, the integration of the Armed Forces,” Ashby said. “Believe in yourselves, and put forth the effort needed to accomplish your goals,” he continued as a message to today’s youth and a blueprint for success.
ARAC is named for Fred Archer, who was the first African American to earn the rank of chief master sergeant and Lincoln Ragsdale, a pilot with the 99th Fighter Squadron in World War II, and later a civil rights leader here in Phoenix during the 50s and ‘60s.
“More than 50 Tuskegee Airmen chapters are established nationwide with a two-fold purpose,” said Bernard Bruce, 56th FW ground safety manager and ARAC chapter historian. “The first is to honor the accomplishments of those who trained and performed as Tuskegee Airmen during World War II. The second is to inspire youth to outstanding achievements in leadership through social and educational activities, science, technology, engineering and math. That is our passion, and that is our challenge.”
In July 1987, the 944th FW reactivated the 302nd Fighter Squadron and a few years later, in March 2000, the 301st FS reactivated. Both units belonged to the 332nd Fighter Group during WWII. The units have since transitioned to the F-22 mission and are located at Elmendorf Air Force Base, Alaska, and Holloman Air Force Base, New Mexico, respectively.
However, the 944th FW still embraces the proud tradition of the Tuskegee Airmen, according to Col. Kurt Gallegos, 944th Fighter Wing commander.
“Not only do I get to lead the 944th Fighter Wing with its strong ties to the Tuskegee Airmen but I have served under its flag while deployed with the 332nd Fighter Air Expeditionary Group four times in Iraq,” he said. “Through the enormous sacrifices and accomplishments that made them legendary, these brave Airmen lived up to the core values of integrity first, service before self, and excellence in all we do. I can assure you that our future aviators and maintainers will always remember the ‘Red Tails.’”
Several pivotal milestones happened from March 1940 to 1949 for those who participated in the Tuskegee Airmen experience, including when the first Tuskegee Airmen ground crews began training, the first flying unit, the 99th Pursuit Squadron, activated, and the first Tuskegee aviation cadets received their pilot wings. In April 2013, former Gov. Jan Brewer signed into law Senate Bill 1128 that designates the fourth Thursday in March as Tuskegee Airmen Commemoration Day in the state of Arizona. Currently, Arizona is the only state to have a designated day set aside to honor the Tuskegee Airmen.