There was a program on ABC-TV last week that recognized the achievements of Black Americans. For the most part, it was a tribute to musicians like James Brown, Michael Jackson, et al.
President and First Lady Obama were in attendance at the event at the Lincoln Center in Washington and the show was quite entertaining, especially the part of the show featuring Brown.
But then actor Tom Hanks came onstage and recounted how, after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, thousands of Black men, like their white counterparts, enlisted in the armed forces to help defend their homeland. For the most part, Hanks correctly pointed out, the Blacks were relegated to the role of cooks, truck drivers “and even grave diggers.”
But then, President Franklin Roosevelt signed an executive order prohibiting discrimination against Blacks in the military and later, a group of Blacks were assigned to a special flight school for Black aviators at Tuskeegee Institute in Tuskeegee, Alabama. Thus was born the Red Tail Squadron which distinguished itself as bomber escorts. Incredible as it sounds, the Red Tails, so-named for the distinguishing red circles painted on the rudders of their P-51 Mustangs, had only seven bombers shot down of the 179 bombing escort missions flown, a number well below average.
Then Hanks, almost overcome, announced that the seven surviving members were in attendance and the crowd, as one, rose to its feet in one of the more memorable displays of raw emotion as the seven, one in a wheelchair and another on a walker, were brought onstage. http://atlantablackstar.com/2017/01/13/tuskegee-airmen-tribute-takingthestage-everyone-tears/ to America the Beautiful performed by a military choir as applause thundered and tears flowed freely.
Appropriately, Obama snapped off a salute to the airman and Retired Gen. Colin Powell strode onstage to personally salute them as a group and to embrace each one individually.
Sadly, in November, between the time of the show’s taping in September and its airing last week, the oldest of the seven, Willie Rogers, 101, died.
The point of this is a story that was related to me in West Monroe last night after I recounted the Lincoln Center tribute.
My cousin was active in the promotion of the former Selman Field Historical Association in Monroe and she told me about a World War II Selman Field navigator who managed to get his bomber pilot lost on his very first flight after training.
Literally thrown into combat immediately after flight school, he told of how he simply froze up and soon realized he had no idea of his coordinates as the pilot, frantically requested information from the navigator as they flew over North Africa. Finally, unable to rely on his navigator, the pilot put out an SOS.
There was immediate radio response and the pilot was directed to look for certain landmarks so that his location could be pinpointed. The strategy worked and the plane was eventually guided to a safe landing.
The plane was immediately surrounded by ambulance personnel and airmen who greeted the bomber crew with questions like “what battle were you in,” “how many wounded,” and other relevant question as they passed out ice cold beer to the bomber’s crew, ice being a rare delicacy in North Africa during the war.
Adding to the embarrassed navigator’s humiliation over getting his pilot lost, was the sudden realization that they were looking into the anxious faces of members of the legendary Tuskeegee Red Tails.
One of the bomber crew members replied, “Oh no, no casualties. We were just lost.”
“Give us back our beer,” came the disgusted response. As they did so, the Red Tails laughingly said they were joking and everyone managed a good chuckle at the situation that, with timely help from the Red Tails, turned out well for the rookie navigator and his fellow crewmen.