‘They blazed the trail’

In March 1941, the first Tuskegee Airmen ground crews began training. This year marks the 80th anniversary of the Tuskegee Airmen and their significance to our history as a country and military.

The Archer-Ragsdale Arizona Chapter of Tuskegee Airmen Inc. and the 944th Fighter Wing virtually hosted their 8th Annual Tuskegee Airmen Commemoration Day Celebration in remembrance of the Tuskegee Airmen legacy, March 25.

This year’s celebration focused on the last 245 years of African American men and women helping forge the path to the freedoms we have today.

Col James Greenwald, 944th Fighter Wing commander, and Chief Master Sgt. Catherine Buchanan, 944th FW Command Chief, watch the virtual 8th Annual Tuskegee Airmen Commemoration Day Celebration in remembrance of the Tuskegee Airmen legacy, March 25, 2021. This year marks the 80th anniversary of the Tuskegee Airmen and focused on the last 245 years of African American men and women helping forge the path to the freedoms we have today. (Air Force photograph by Master Sgt. Louis Vega)

“We are here to honor and perpetuate the history and legacy of those dedicated and patriotic African Americans who participated as aircrews, ground crews, and operations in the Army Air Corps during World War II,” said retired Col. Richard Toliver, Archer-Ragsdale Arizona Chapter president.

Toliver highlighted the impact of how these members faced adversity every step of the way but didn’t let the actions of others deter them from defending their country and supporting each other.

“The black pilots and their ground crews were assigned as far away from the battle lines as possible,” Toliver said. “Nevertheless, equipped with older fighters, like the P-39s, P-40s and P-47s, they began making a name for themselves in combat against targets on the ground and in the air.”

Their legacy continues to be preserved through Toliver’s organization and for the last 15 years they have maintained support from the 944th Fighter Wing at Luke Air Force Base, Ariz.

“There has been a great relationship between the 944th FW and Tuskegee Airmen 332nd Fighter Group dating back to World War II,” said Toliver.

The 332nd FG was established under the command of Col. B.O. Davis, Jr., and was equipped with red-tailed P-51’s from which the “Red Tail” legacy was established.

The 944th Fighter Wing commander works hard to make sure that his members know the legacy of Airmen they carry forward.

“Whenever I talk to the Airmen of the 944th, I talk about culture,” said Col. James Greenwald, 944th FW commander. “The culture of Airmen is the result of our heritage. We are who we are because of those who blazed the trail.”

Greenwald recognized the struggles these Airmen faced in their efforts to accomplish their mission.

The 944th Fighter Wing Red Tail Static Display at Luke Air Force Base, Ariz. (Courtesy photograph)

“Tuskegee Airmen faced incredible adversity and injustice on top of the normal challenges of military service,” Greenwald said. “Through all of those challenges, they faced each day with perseverance, resilience, and resolve; letting their performance do the talking.”

Greenwald explains why their example is so important for today’s Airmen to remember.

“It’s the fabric of our organization,” Greenwald said. “It’s the values that we share. It’s the way we work with our teammates. It’s how we see ourselves and how we want others to see us. It’s our shared identity.”

Greenwald and his fellow leaders recognize that the Tuskegee Airmen’s efforts were not simply that they were established, but that they continued to serve in every conflict after initiation regardless of how the public felt about the color of their skin.

“Their contribution is not simply what they did in World War II,” Greenwald said. “Their legacy continues to influence the culture of Airmen today.”

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