Tuskegee Airmen

Tuskegee Airmen

The Tuskegee Airmen were a group of African-American and Caribbean born fighter and bomber pilots who fought in WWII. They served in the US Army Air Forces as the 332nd Fighter Group and the 477th Bombardment Group. The Tuskegee Airmen included the pilots, navigators, instructors, and maintenance and support staff who all helped keep the pilots and planes in the air.

In 1938, President Franklin D. Roosevelt announced that he would be expanding the civilian pilot training program in the US due to Europe teetering on the verge of war. As the Army Air Corps (AAC) began boosting its training program, civil rights groups began arguing that black Americans should be included instead of segregated from the expansion.


In September 1940, the White House announced that the AAC would begin training black pilots at the Tuskegee Army Airfield in Tuskegee, Alabama. There were 13 members of the first class of aviation cadets in 1941, and ultimately the program would train around 1,000 pilots, along with 14,000 navigators, bombardiers, instructors, mechanics, and other maintenance and support staff.

In 1942, the Tuskegee-trained 99th Pursuit Squadron was deployed to North Africa. They flew their mission in second-hand P-40 planes, which were slower and harder to maneuver than those that the Germans were flying. This led to complaints from their assigned fighter group, and lead to 99th being relocated to Italy to fly alongside the 79th Fighter Group. During this time, pilots from the 99th shot down 12 German fighters in two days, making steps towards proving themselves in combat. The 99th was awarded two Presidential Unit Citations for outstanding tactical air support and aerial combat in the 12th Air Force in Italy.


In February 1944, the 99th was met by the 100th, 301st, and 302nd fighter squadrons to form the new 332nd Fighter Group. After this merge, the pilots of the 332nd began flying P-51 Mustangs to escort heavy bombers during raids into deep enemy territory. The tails of the P-51 Mustangs were painted red for identification, thus earning them the nickname “Red Tails”.

The 332nd was awarded the Presidential Unit Citation for its; longest bomber escort mission to Berlin on March 24, 1945, where the Red Tails destroyed three German ME-262 jet fighters, and damaged five additional jet fighters.

The Tuskegee Airmen ran over 200 escort missions, during which time only about 25 bombers were shot down by enemies, giving them one of the lowest loss records of all escort fighter groups, and was impressive compared to the average 46 bombers lost by the 15 Air Force. This put them in constant demand for their services by allied bomber units.

The Tuskegee Airmen had flown more than 15,000 individual sorties during their two years of combat, and destroyed or damaged 36 German planes in the air, and 237 on the ground. They also destroyed nearly 1,000 rail cars, transport vehicles, and a German destroyer.

The 332nd ran its last combat mission in April 26, 1945, two weeks before the German surrender.


The Tuskegee Airmen overcame prejudice to become one of the most highly respected fighter groups of WWII. They ultimately paved the way for the end of segregation in the US military.


After their return home, one of the 13 original cadets, Benjamin O. Davis Jr, went on the become the first black general in the new US Air Force. Another Tuskegee Airman, George S. “Spanky” Roberts became the first black commander of a racially integrated Air Force unit, and eventually retired as a colonel. And in 1975, Daniel “Chappie” James Jr. went on to become the nation’s first black four-star general.

Another notable Tuskegee Airman was Charles Alfred “Chief” Anderson, who in 1929 earned his pilot’s license, and in 1932 became the first Black American to receive a commercial pilot’s certificate, and subsequently make a transcontinental flight. As chief flight instructor at Tuskegee, he famously flew First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt on an aerial tour, convincing her to encourage her husband to authorize military flight training at Tuskegee.

In 2007, more than 300 of the original Tuskegee Airmen received the Congressional Gold Medal from President George W Bush. Then in 2009, the surviving Tuskegee pilots and support crew were invited to attend the inauguration of the nation’s first black president.

8 More Celebrities Who Served

8 More Celebrities Who Served

 If you’ve been following our Instagram posts this week, you will have seen part of our small batch of jackets featuring celebrities who have served. We specifically showed you a preview of our Elvis Presley and Stan Lee jackets, and give you a small tidbit about their time in the service. Here are some other quick facts about some more celebrities who have served in the US Armed Forces, some of which are also featured on our jackets, available exclusively at Makers. You’ll have to stop in to find out which ones though!

1. Tom Selleck

Tom Selleck was drafted into the Vietnam War in 1967. He joined the California National Guard in the 160th infantry regiment. He served until 1973. He remains a spokesperson for the Vietnam Veteran’s memorial fund.

2. Adam Driver

Adam Driver was inspired to join the Marines in 2002, shortly after 9/11. He was stationed at Camp Pendleton and assigned  to Weapons Company, 1st Battalion, 1st Marines as an 81mm mortar man. Two years into his training, he was involved in a mountain biking accident that broke his sternum and led to a medical discharge. He and his wife co-founded Arts in the Armed Forces, which brings theater programs to active soldiers and veterans.

3. Johnny Cash

Johnny Cash voluntarily joined the Air Force in 1950. After basic training, he was assigned to the 12th Radio Squadron Mobile in West Germany. He worked as a Morse code operator to intercept Soviet Army tranmissions. During his time in West Germany, Cash created his first band, “The Landsberg Barbarians”. He was honorably discharged in 1954 at the rank of staff sergeant.

Fun fact: On March 5, 1953, he intercepted a telegraph that Stalin had died, which made him the first American to be aware of the Soviet leader’s death.

4. Drew Carey

In 1980, Drew Carey signed himself up for the Marine Corps Reserve. He served for 6 years as a field radio operator in the 25th Marine Regiment. To this day, he credits his time in the Marines for giving him the self confidence and discipline to become a successful comedian.

5. Clint Eastwood

Clint Eastwood was drafted into the Army in 1951, during the Korean War. He served as a swim instructor at California’s Fort Ord. During his time in the service, Eastwood was on board a Navy bomber when the engine failed and the plane crashed. Eastwood had to swim over a mile to shore. He was honorably discharged in 1953.

6. Jackie Robinson

Jackie Robinson was drafted into a segregated cavalry unit of the Army in 1942. He was accepted into Officer Candidate School after much discrimination and debate, and succesfully completed it to be commissioned as a Second Lieutiant. In 1944 Robinson was transferred out of his unit after refusing to move to the back of a military bus. He was sent to the 758th Tank Battalion, where he was quickly accused and court-martialed for insubordination. He was fully aquitted, and requested to be released from the Army. Robinson was transferred to Camp Breckinridge, where he coached black athletic teams until his honorable discharge in 1944.

7. Morgan Freeman

Morgan Freeman joined the Air Force in 1955, with dreams of becoming a pilot. He even turned down a scholarship to Jackson State University to enlist. Instead of flying though, he was assigned to become a radar technician. Eventually he was given his chance to become a fighter pilot, but quickly realized the job wasn’t what he thought it would be. He was honorably discharged in 1959.

8. Bob Ross

Bob Ross enlisted in the Air Force in 1961, but his tall height made it difficult to train as a pilot or work on planes. Instead he was assigned to become a medical records technician. A few years into his service, he was transferred to Eielson AF Base in Alaska. It was here that he was inspired by the mountains and scenery to take painting classes offered by the USO. After 20 years, Ross retired from the service as a master sergeant. His rank meant that he had to maintain a tough (and loud) appearance, so when he retired he said he never wanted to raise his voice again.