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.

Marilyn Monroe

Marilyn Monroe

In February of 1954, Marilyn Monroe and her new husband, Joe DiMaggio, a Yankee baseball legend, were travelling to Japan on their honeymoon, when Monroe was approached by an officer and asked if she would be willing to perform for some troops in Korea. The famous pair were travelling with their friends, Frank O’Doul and his wife Jean. DiMaggio and O’Doul were scheduled to help coach and train Japanese baseball teams for the coming season, so Monroe agreed, figuring she would have some downtime.

 

During the next two weeks, Monroe received her clearance papers to become an official USO entertainer and her required vaccinations. She left Tokyo with her friend Jean O’Doul, and the two were escorted to Seoul by a US Army entertainment officer.

 

 

 

 

Their first stop was the 1st Marine Division camp, located remotely in the nearby mountains. Upon seeing the thousands of marines lining up to see her, Monroe asked the pilot to circle low as she laid on her stomach, leaning out the door (held only in place by two soldiers holding her feet) to wave back and blow kisses to the men below.

Once she landed, she changed into the now famous purple, spaghetti strap dress and gold heels and emerged onto a makeshift stage in front of thousands of marines. Through the snow and sleet sprinkling the stage, she sang “Diamonds are a Girl’s Best Friend” and “Do It Again”. Monroe would later tell Hollywood screenwriter and director Ben Hecht: “There were seventeen thousand soldiers in front of me yelling at the top of their lungs. I stood there smiling at them. It had started snowing, but I felt warm, as if I were standing in the bright sun. I’ve always been frightened by large audiences, but standing in the snowfall facing these shouting soldiers, I felt no fear for the first time. I only felt happy. I felt at home.” Despite the freezing temperatures, it was said Monroe never complained about the conditions or arrangements, and even turned down electric blankets and space heaters.

One of her next performances took place at the Bulldozer Bowl, which was the USO’s stage in Cheorwon Valley, where she performed for the US Army’s 2nd Infantry Division. Allegedly, soldiers were claiming “dibs” on front row seats seven hours before she even arrived. It was another brutally cold day in February, and Monroe walked out on stage in a heavy parka. In the middle of her song, she stopped singing and said ‘That’s not what you came to see’ and removed the parka to reveal her low cut, purple dress. One soldier would later recall that she brought so much joy to a group of combat-weary soldiers, especially those who watched from the sick bay and those who hiked several miles over the frozen terrain to see her. After the concert, she patiently waited on stage, as hundreds lined up for photos and autographs.

 

When another performance was delayed, the troops were outraged. Monroe was overwhelmed by their enthusiasm, and was lifted onto a tank so she could pose and wave to the crowd that had amassed to see her.

Through her next few performances, she was consistently described as humble and caring. A few photographers were allowed on stage with her, and several would later recall that she genuinely cared about everyone and felt blessed to be there to perform. Despite the temperatures, she was never in a rush or hurry, and took time to ask everyone about their families and civilian lives.

Her final show was for the 45th Division, and at the end of the performance she stood on stage for a solid half-hour blowing kisses to the adoring audience. She had tears in her eyes as she bid farewell to the crowd one last time before take-off.

Her tour lasted 4 days, during which she performed for as many soldiers as she could. Monroe came down with a severe case of bronchial pneumonia due to her exposure to the icy and mountainous conditions. But despite the resulting illness, she would later explain that she never felt like a celebrity until she performed in front of those troops. Monroe kept that purple dress as a memento for the rest of her life, and several audience members have said they would never forget her performance for the rest of theirs.

Memphis Belle

Memphis Belle

On May 17, 1943, the crew of the Memphis Belle, one of a group of American bombers based in Britain, becomes the first B-17 crew to complete 25 missions over Europe.

Belle participated in some of the most hazardous raids of the war, when the Luftwaffe still had a commanding fighter superiority and defenses of the Nazi regime were strong. She was bullet-ridden, flak-battered and on five separate occasions had one of her engines shot out. But she slugged it out with Messerschmitts and Focke Wulfs and absorbed their cannon fire without flinching. The longest period the storied plane was out of service was five days, when transportation difficulties delayed a wing replacement.

During her 25 combat missions, Belle‘s gunners were credited with destroying eight enemy fighters, but they also probably destroyed five others and damaged at least a dozen more. Her crew dropped more than 60 tons of bombs over France, Germany and Belgium, knocking out supply depots, railway yards, aircraft plants and an assortment of military bases. With amazing accuracy—thanks in no small part to the sterling work of bombardier Vincent B. Evans—Belle‘s crew blasted the Focke Wulf plant at Bremen, locks at St. Nazaire and Brest, docks and shipbuilding installations at Wilhelmshaven, railroad yards at Rouen, submarine pens and powerhouses at Lorient and aircraft factories at Antwerp.

Although Belle‘s crew members earned 51 decorations, only one Purple Heart was awarded—to tail gunner John Quinlan, who described his wound as a pin scratch on the leg. Each of the crew received the Distinguished Flying Cross and the Air Medal with three oak leaf clusters.

February Small Batch

Helen Nelson

Every month, HBN Design will be creating a featured small batch of items. These items will only available for a limited time, or until they’re sold out!

This month, we’re celebrating love with hearts and valentines! Each item is unique and one of a kind, like all of our items; but this type of embellishment won’t be seen from us again!

So take a piece of the collection home with you while you can, or if you’ve already claimed a piece, let us see! Post a picture using the hashtag #hbnsmallbatch.

Thanks so much for your support!