A Visit to Tuskegee

through the sunny Alabama countryside with my windows down and sunroof open, I
was enjoying the breeze and the sights of a rural landscape. Eventually, the
country roads led me to an airport, like they always do. This airport, Moton
Field Municipal Airport, was rich in history.

who pass by this general aviation airport may think it served as just the local
airport, but then two large World War II style hangars come in to view. As you
get closer to these buildings you can make out a series of other military
buildings and barracks near them. After a few moments of walking around on the
ramp, you can feel that some important event had taken place there.

The hangars,
ramp, and barracks are now part of the Tuskegee Airmen National Historic Site. The
areas I was standing on were the exact spots where the Tuskegee Airmen, the
first African American military aviators, earned their wings. Prior to 1940,
African Americans were not allowed to become military pilots. Those brave few
who dared to dream and signed up for the Tuskegee program faced many barriers
before they could earn their wings. Moton Field was the only primary flight
facility for African American pilot candidates in the U.S. Army Air Corps and
later Army Air Forces during World War II. It was named for Robert Russa Moton,
the second president of Tuskegee Institute. The field was built in 1940 with
funding allocated by the Julius Rosenwald Fund. It was agreed that primary
flight training would be carried out there on contract for the U.S. government.

of the key players in the allocation of the money was first lady Eleanor
Roosevelt. She was a trustee for the Rosenwald Fund and would show up from time
to time to inspect the progress of the field, as well as the program.

March of 1941, the first lady visited Moton Field and Tuskegee Army Airfield
and demanded to go for an airplane ride with one of the airmen based there. C.
Alfred “Chief” Anderson was her pilot; he was Tuskegee’s first flight
instructor. Under Roosevelt’s orders, Anderson took her up in a J-3 Cub. By the
time they landed, the media had learned of the flight and was on hand to take
photos of the historic event. Roosevelt insisted that her flight be
photographed and the photos developed immediately so that she could take the pictures
back to Washington, D.C., to show her husband.

All of
the first lady’s actions were in an effort to get President Franklin Roosevelt
to activate the squadron. A few weeks later, the group of airmen at Tuskegee was
activated into the military and, just short of two months later, was
redesignated the 99th Fighter Squadron. Primary training continued at Moton
Field with advanced training taking place just a few miles away at Tuskegee
Army Airfield.

we talk in large part of the pilots, there were also ground and support crews. Much
of the maintenance was performed by African American women. In June of 1943 the
99th Fighter Squadron deployed for combat in North Africa. They eventually joined
the 15th Air Force as the 332nd Fighter Group as bomber escort in Italy
commanded by Col. Benjamin O. Davis.

the historic site, there are two hangars to tour. Inside of Hangar One are two
vintage aircraft on display: a PT-17 Stearman and a Piper J-3 Cub, which were
two of the most significant types flown at this field. The next hangar tells
the story of the experience that these brave men and women went through. There
are personal effects, as well as a full-scale mockup of a P-51 Mustang sporting
the red tail that gave the Tuskegee Airmen the nickname Red Tail Squadron.

viewing the historic airfield, I was guided on a short drive to the fenced off
remains of what was Tuskegee Army Airfield. It is now private property, but the
remains of the base are still very visible.

interested in this part of history owes themselves a trip there. I cannot begin
to describe the feeling one gets walking in the footsteps of such amazing

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