Our tie to the Red Tails
Have you heard about that football team in Washington D.C., the one they are going to change from the Redskins name after decades of objection from Native Americans?
One of the names under consideration is The Red Tails. People interested in World War II and aviation, particularly our air bombardment campaigns in Europe, come across the name Red Tails and it always makes for fascinating discovery for the uninitiated.
They were the Tuskegee Airmen, the all-African American 332nd Fighter Group who blazed a trail of blood, honor and glory in the still segregated American military.
They came into being with a push from Eleanor Roosevelt and had to prove they were equal to any other American in service.
If they could not enter Officer’s Clubs and if their billets, at home, and overseas in the combat theater, remained segregated and second-class, the Tuskegee fighter pilots fought a strictly first-class war.
Based out of Italy, with the 15th Air Force, they finally had their co-American bomber crews asking for the Red Tails as an escort because they earned a reputation for not losing planes to enemy action.
It demands a little history and some imagination to grasp what this means.
By the time the Red Tails earned their bomber escort mission, they were flying the P-51 Mustang, possibly WWII’s best piston-engine fighter. On arrival in Italy, they were relegated to flying older P-40 Warhawks and strafing Nazi supply trains and convoys.
But more escorts were needed for the B-24 Liberators and B-17 “heavies” — the bombers flying over the Italian and Swiss Alps to bomb Austria and Germany. The Red Tails showed they could get it done against the Nazi Luftwaffe.
We have connections to the Tuskegee fighter pilots and the Antelope Valley. Our recently departed WWII hero Charles “Charlie” Rader, was awarded the Silver Star for rescuing his own B-17 crew.
“We loved the Red Tails,” he told me shortly before we lost him at 95. “They never lost a bomber.”
In Lancaster, on the Boulevard, we have our memorial to Tuskegee’s heroes, along the Aerospace Walk of Honor.
We have an even more personal tie. Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department Deputy Raymundo Wilson, is the son of Myron “Mike” Wilson. Over the weekend, Ray posted a historical tribute that blended WWII “gun camera” film from when his dad flew with the Tuskegee Airmen.
With narration by Bishop Henry Hearns, himself a Korean War veteran, the film recounts the Red Tails’ participation in The Berlin Mission of March 24, 1945, the longest, biggest raid done by the Italy-based 15th Air Force. Myron Wilson died 19 years ago, but is not forgotten.
During the raid, the storied Tuskegee pilots of the 332nd Fighter Group earned the Distinguished Unit Citation for shooting down three of the Nazis’ most formidable aircraft, the Messerschmitt 262 jet fighter.
Everyone is flying, altitudes of 20,000 feet and up, with oxygen and it is exhausting.
The 262, one of the first jets, flew 100 mph faster than the propeller aircraft. To down one was opportunity, matched with skill, visual acuity, strength and management of terror.
“Earl Lane and I shared in one, the credited shoot down of the Nazi jet,” Myron Wilson said in an interview 30 years ago.
Raymundo Wilson’s father returned to an America that would take nearly another 20 years to pass Civil Rights legislation and he had such difficulty finding acceptance as an African-American pilot, that he sought other endeavors, worked hard and raised a splendid family.
A half-century after they made movies about these heroes, “Tuskegee Airmen,” starring Laurence Fishburne and “Red Tails,” produced by George Lucas. Raymundo Wilson noted Lucas had to put up his own money to get the movie made.
The Red Tails are emblematic of African-Americans demonstrating honor in war, and courage in the fight for dignity and respect.
Dennis Anderson is a licensed clinical social worker. An Army veteran paratrooper, he covered the Iraq War as an embedded reporter for the Valley Press. At High Desert Medical Group, he works on veterans and community mental health initiatives.