Our tie to the Red Tails

Antelope Valley Press - - NEWS - Den­nis An­der­son

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.

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