HATTIESBURG – They
debunked racial stereotyping with their heroic exploits and in the
process helped bring down an enemy devoted to the same ethnic hatred
they were forced to overcome to serve their country.
Two members of the history-making Tuskegee Airmen,
the first African-American fighter pilots during World War II, shared
their 'war stories' at the spring 2005 University Forum at The University
of Southern Mississippi March 8 at Bennett Auditorium.
Lt. Col. Herbert Carter and Maj. Carroll Woods faced
opposition during the war - not only from Germans, Italians and
Japanese, but also from Americans in the military establishment,
from commanding officers to enlisted men - who doubted the ability
of the pilots trained at Tuskegee Institute in Tuskegee, Ala.
But an impressive record of accomplishment, which
includes no losses of escorted bombers during the war, proved that
African-Americans were as capable of effective military service
as their white counterparts, said Carter, a native of Amory, Miss.
"We were visionaries," Carter said of the
men who sought to play a more active role in the military than simply
serving in the "rear ranks" or being "cannon fodder"
for the enemy. "We wanted to serve at a higher level. We wanted
to serve as officers
we were determined to prove we could fly
"Anyone, when given the proper training
do extraordinary things," he said.
According to the National Museum of the United States
Air Force Web site, on July 19, 1941, the Army Air Force began a
program in Alabama to train African-Americans as military pilots.
Primary flight training was conducted by the Division of Aeronautics
of the Tuskegee Institute, the famed school of learning founded
by Booker T. Washington in 1881 (now Tuskegee University).
The first classes of Tuskegee Airmen were trained
to be fighter pilots for the famous 99th Fighter Squadron, slated
for combat duty in North Africa. Additional pilots were assigned
to the 332d Fighter Group which flew combat along with the 99th
Squadron from bases in Italy. By the end of the war, 992 men had
graduated from pilot training at Tuskegee, 450 of whom were sent
overseas for combat assignment. During the same period, approximately
150 lost their lives while in training or on combat flights.
"We (the 100th Fighter Squadron) flew 67 missions,
sometimes two a day," said Woods.
Carter served with the 99th Fighter Squadron as an
aircraft maintenance officer, and was part of the fourth group of
black aviators to earn the Silver Wings decoration. He served 77
combat missions as a pilot in North Africa, Sicily and southern
Woods, of Valdosta, Ga., was assigned to the 100th
Fighter Squadron and completed 103 combat missions. Both men received
several medals and honors for their service.
The spring University Forum honors the first African-American
students to attend Southern Miss, Elaine Armstrong and Raylawni
Branch. For more information about the University Forum, contact
the Southern Miss Honors College at (601) 266-4533.