A few months back I received a mailing from the Red Tail Project asking for a donation to help restore a WWII Mustang fighter like those flown by the black pilots called the Tuskegee Airmen. I had seen a movie about them several years back, and I admired what these men had achieved in the face of racial discrimination during the 1940s. I read more background on-line and then wrote this poem as a tribute:
The Tuskegee Airmen
In 1942 America was in World War II.
For black Americans, “back of the bus”
and segregation was all they ever knew.
Yet, they pled, “Give this chance to us.“
Let us fight as pilots; let us do our part.”
Many opposed: “Negroes lack intelligence
to fly a plane; in combat they’d lack heart.
To become a first-rate pilot takes diligence!”
Approval finally won, the Tuskegee Institute
began to make fighter pilots out of black men.
They became heroes, turning their critics mute.
Let’s review what they accomplished back then.
Flying P51-C Mustangs with tails painted red,
these black men were courageous and skilled
when escorting bomber missions. It’s been said
they kept many bomber crews from being killed.
The statistics are extraordinary:
1,578 total missions flown
15,533 total sorties flown
Over 260 German planes destroyed
Hardly any escorted American bombers downed
950 train cars, trucks, and other vehicles destroyed
150 train locomotives destroyed
1 naval destroyer sunk with crewmen drowned
Of 450 Tuskegee airmen deployed overseas,
66 died in combat and 32 became POWs
Awards won: 1 Legion of Merit, 1 Silver Star,
2 Soldier Medals, 150 Distinguished Flying Crosses,
14 Bronze Stars, and 8 Purple Hearts
These gallant black lads made their country
proud. White bomber squadrons requested
escort by the “Red Tails” fighters. “You see,
I want my boys to get home,” so suggested
one bomber squadron commander. In all,
994 black men graduated as pilots from
Tuskegee Institute. Each could stand tall.
At war’s end, the return home for some
was hard. Despite their having risked
injury or death serving their country
so bravely and well, they were whisked
back to prewar “second class citizenry”.
The gallant exploits of these black airmen
would play a major part in ending segregation
in the Army, but now as civilians once again,
they suffered indignities across the nation.
Although admonished to “know their place”,
these black pilots won glory for their race.
I sent my poem to the Red Tail Project, along with a $50 donation. They responded that they might use my poem in the supporting material traveling arround with the plane on tour to teach young Americans about the history of the Tuskegee Airman so that this episode of black history will be perserved. It would be nice if they do decide to include it on the tour. I would be greatly honored, if so.