Three members of the famed Tuskegee Airmen visited with Airmen at
the Pentagon during a meet and greet hosted by Air Force Secretary
Deborah Lee James Feb. 16, 2016.
Retired Col. Charles McGee
and former Cadets William Fauntroy Jr. and Walter Robinson Sr.
shared stories and insights about their lives as Tuskegee Airmen and
as civilians after they left the military.
Tuskegee Airmen former Cadets Walter Robinson Sr. and William Fauntroy Jr. and retired Col. Charles McGee join Secretary of the Air Force Deborah Lee James for lunch at the Pentagon Feb. 16, 2016. The Tuskegee Airmen shared their stories and experiences with the secretary. (U.S. Air Force photo
by Scott M. Ash)
“I had a breadth of understanding of what could be,
because I had accepted the training and the discipline,”
said Robinson, who went on to be the first black postal
manager in Washington, D.C.
The Tuskegee Airmen were
named after the Tuskegee Army Airfield near Tuskegee,
Alabama, where they received their pilot and aircraft
maintenance training during World War II. The Tuskegee
Airmen were not just flyers but also radio operators,
navigators, bombardiers, aircraft maintainers, support
staff, instructors, and all the personnel who kept the
planes in the air.
“It was an interesting concept
because the policy was ... we (blacks) weren't capable of
doing anything technical, to include maintaining and flying
airplanes,” McGee said.
However, Congress passed a
law allowing the Army to contract the primary phase of
military pilot training to civilian schools; the Tuskegee
Institute applied and received the contract.
couldn't fly yet, but our instructors were black pilots,”
While the Tuskegee Airmen were still
learning how to fly, they were also dealing with
“I hate(d) segregation, yet on the other
hand it brought us together from 1941 to 1949, when the Air
Force closed the segregated bases,” McGee said. “We became
lifelong friends and we still get together annually; of
course, some of us come in wheelchairs now, but that's
Fauntroy, who grew up in the District,
remembered the cadet corps at his high school and was
surprised by the synergy he witnessed.
that impressed me at Tuskegee was how the pilots and
mechanics worked so closely together,” Fauntroy continued.
“That's the one thing I liked about the Army Air Corps was
that we were working together and when I started to fly, I
understood if it wasn't for that guy taking care of this
airplane, I wouldn't be up here flying ... it was a team
While the red jackets the Tuskegee Airmen
wear symbolize their “Red Tails” name and the achievements
in the sky above Germany during World War II, they also
represent other victories as well. The 996 pilots and more
than 15,000 ground personnel who served with these units
flew more than 15,500 combat sorties and earned more than
150 Distinguished Flying Crosses.
“Have you heard of
‘Double Victory?' We were fighting a war against Hitler in
Europe and we were fighting a war against racism at home,”
said McGee, who has more than 6,000 flying hours.
Tuskegee Airmen's successes encouraged President Harry
Truman to integrate the armed forces in 1948.
honor the service and sacrifice of all our Airmen
year-round, but I'd like to take a moment to highlight the
Tuskegee Airmen,” James said. “Their legacy is so important,
not just to our Air Force, but to our nation. Their skill
and bravery in the skies over Europe helped us win the war
against fascism and their perseverance at home helped us
down the path of diversity in our military and our nation.”
By U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Bryan Franks
Secretary of the Air Force Public Affairs Command Information
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