Benjamin O. Davis – Part 2

In July 1941, Davis entered aviation cadet training with the Tuskegee Airmen’s first class of aviation cadets, Class 42-C-SE. On March 6, 1942, Davis graduated from aviation cadet training with Captain George S. Roberts, 2nd Lt. Charles DeBow Jr., 2nd Lt. Mac Ross, and 2nd Lt. Lemuel R. Custis. Davis and his four classmates became the first African-American combat fighter pilots in the U.S. military.
 
Davis was the first African-American officer to solo an Army Air Corps aircraft. 
 
In July 1942, having been promoted to lieutenant colonel, he was named commander of the first all-black air unit, the 99th Pursuit Squadron. The squadron, equipped with Curtiss P-40 Warhawks, was sent to Tunisia in North Africa in the spring of 1943. On June 2, they saw combat for the first time in a dive-bombing mission against the German-held island of Pantelleria. The squadron later supported the Allied invasion of Sicily. 
 
In September 1943, Davis was deployed to the United States to take command of the 332nd Fighter Group, a larger all-black unit preparing to go overseas. 
 
Colonel Davis and his 332nd Fighter Group arrived in Italy soon after that. The four-squadron group, called the Red Tails for the distinctive markings of its planes, were based at Ramitelli Airfield and flew many missions deep into German territory. By the summer of 1944, the group had transitioned to P-47 Thunderbolts, and about two months later, they transitioned into P-51 Mustangs. 
 
Davis led 67 missions in P-47s and P-51 Mustangs. He received the Silver Star for a strafing run into Austria, as well as the Distinguished Flying Cross for a bomber-escort mission to Munich on June 9, 1944.
Col. Benjamin O. Davis in the cockpit of his P-51C Mustang.

Benjamin O. Davis – Part 1

In the summer of 1926, at the age of 13, Benjamin Davis went for a flight with a barnstorming pilot at Bolling Field in Washington, D.C. This proved to be a life-changing experience. Now he was determined to become a pilot himself. 

In 1929, amid the Great Depression, Davis graduated from Central High School in Cleveland, Ohio. That same year, Davis attended Western Reserve University, starting his college education. 

After attending the University of France and the University of Chicago, he entered the United States Military Academy at West Point, New York, in July 1932. He was sponsored by Representative Oscar De Priest (R-IL) of Chicago, at the time, the only black member of Congress. During the four years of his Academy term, Davis was racially isolated by his white classmates, few of whom spoke to him outside the line of duty. He never had a roommate. He ate by himself. His classmates thought that “shunning” him, would drive him out of the Academy. The “silent treatment” had the opposite effect. It made Davis more determined to graduate. Eventually, he earned the respect of his classmates. 

The courage, tenacity, and intelligence with which he conquered every obstacle he encountered and his single-minded determination to continue in his chosen career as a military officer and combat pilot, eventually gained him a great deal of sincere admiration from everyone who witnessed it. 

He graduated in June 1936, 35th in a class of 276.

Benjamin O. Davis at graduation from West Point.
Benjamin O. Davis at graduation from West Point.

Charles Hall

Tuskegee Airman Charles Hall made history for himself and his fellow 99th Fighter Squadron pilots. 
 
After three years of college, Charles enlisted in the US Army as an aviation cadet. He was a member of Tuskegee Class 42-F-SE. On completion of training, Charles B. Hall was commissioned as a second lieutenant of the U.S. Army Air Force on July 3, 1942. He was assigned to the 99th Fighter Squadron. 
 
The 99th FS was the first unit of the Tuskegee-trained pilots to be deployed overseas. The squadron was sent to North Africa, April 2, 1943, as part of the 33rd Fighter Group. 
 
On July 2, 1943, the 99th was escorting USAAF B-25 Mitchell medium bombers in the skies over Castelventrano, Western Sicily. Enemy fighters intercepted the flight. 
 
In Charles’ own words, “It was my eighth mission and the first time I had seen the enemy close enough to shoot at him. I saw two German Focke-Wulf 190s following the bombers just after the bombs were dropped. I headed for the space between the fighters and bombers and managed to turn inside the Jerries.” 
 
He continues, “I fired a long burst and saw my tracers penetrate the second aircraft. He was turning to the left, but suddenly fell off and headed straight into the ground. I followed him down and saw him crash. He raised a big cloud of dust.” 
 
Hall was the first of the 99th Fighter Squadron and the first Tuskegee Airman to have downed an enemy aircraft. For this, he was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross. Before the war ended, he had flown 198 combat missions and had been promoted to the rank of major.
Charles Hall in his P-40 Warhawk

Robert Ashby

Bob Ashby enlisted in the Army Air Corps at age 17 as a candidate for the Aviation Cadet program. He was called to active duty in August 1944. Bob was assigned to Keesler Field, Mississippi, for basic training and testing for entry into the Aviation Cadet Program. In December 1944, Ashby was sent to Tuskegee, Alabama, to begin cadet training. 
 
At Tuskegee, he became a member of class 45-H-TE. He trained flying the Stearman PT-17, AT-6 Texan, and the B-25 Mitchell bomber. Ashby graduated as a Second Lieutenant with the Tuskegee Class of TE-45-H on November 20th, 1945. 
 
World War II was coming to an end, but Bob elected to stay in the Air Force. There were few opportunities for a young black man to be able to earn a living as a pilot outside of the military.
 
When the war broke out in Korea, he flew Douglas B-26 Invaders on missions against communist North Korea. 
 
In 1956, Ashby was flying jets, now in England. He flew the T-33, B-45, and B-66 in a bombardment squadron. In February 1960, he came to McConnell AFB, Kansas, for training in the B-47 aircraft and became a B-47 instructor pilot. 
 
After 21 years flying in the USAF, he retired with the rank of Lieutenant Colonel. 
 
In 1973, Bob sent out applications to airlines in hopes of getting hired by fly airliners. No black man had ever been hired as an airline pilot before, but Bob saw no reason that he couldn’t be the first. Frontier Airlines in Denver decided to give him a try, asking him if he could start training class immediately. 
 
That class was groundbreaking for two reasons: Firstly, Bob was the first Tuskegee Airman to be trained as a commercial pilot. He rose through the ranks at Frontier, attaining the rank of Captain and flying the Twin Otter, Convair 580, Boeing 737, and MD-80. Secondly, he flew for Frontier until July 17th, 1986, when he reached the mandatory retirement age of 60 – the first black man to ever do so!
Robert Ashby

Capt. Freddie E. Hutchins

Freddie Hutchins of Donaldsonville, GA, graduated from flight training on April 29, 1943, at Tuskegee Army Air Field in Alabama. In December, he deployed to Italy with the 302nd Fighter Squadron, part of the 332nd Fighter Group. The 302nd Fighter Squadron flew its first combat mission on February 5, 1944.
 
Hutchins scored his first aerial victory on July 26, 1944, when 61 P-51 Mustangs left Ramitelli Air Field in Italy for bomber escort missions to Vienna, Austria. Several enemy planes were spotted on the trip, but they remained out of range until the B-24 bombers attacked their target. “Just then, we sighted three ME-109s above us making vapor trails. We were at 28,000 feet. We climbed as the ME-109s started a gradual climbing turn. I knew Capt. Toppins was not going to let them get away, so I prepared for a good fight.” Toppins, Jackson, 1st Lt. Hutchins and 2nd Lt. Roger Romine were each credited with one aerial victory. It was Toppins’ fourth kill.
 
Hutchins collected his next kills on August 30 when pilots discovered enemy aircraft under hay stacks at Grosswardein airfield in Romania. After 15 passes, 46 pilots were credited with 83 kills: Hutchins was credited with four.
 
The 332nd Fighter Group was sent on strafing missions to three Greek airfields on October 6. The 302nd Fighter Squadron was sent to Megara but found the base mostly abandoned. Hutchins’s plane was raked by anti-aircraft flak as the pilots fired on the base. One burst came up through the floor of his Mustang, wounding him in the leg. Barely controlling the badly damaged aircraft, he crash-landed.
 
“I was pulled out of my ship by some Greeks who arrived at my plane shortly after it crashed. I walked a few steps, then passed out. Some men raised me up and began to walk me around. Then they put me on a donkey and walked that donkey around in a circle. They did this to restore my respiration. However, my back hurt me so badly that I begged them to stop. I was then carried to a doctor who rubbed my back with some homemade olive oil, strapped me up and put me to bed.”
 
Within a few days, he had returned to the 302nd Fighter Squadron and after a full recovery, returned to flight status and to the air war.
 
By the end of the year, Hutchins was promoted to captain. He later served in the Korean War and the Vietnam War. Hutchins was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross, an Air Medal with four oak leaf clusters and a Purple Heart for his military service.
 Freddie Hutchins in WWII.
Freddie Hutchins in WWII.

Paul Lehman

Paul David Lehman, Jr. was born on October 4, 1922. He enlisted in the United States Army in Los Angeles, California in November of 1942. He opted for aviation cadet training and quickly found himself on a train heading to Tuskegee, Alabama. Moton Field and Tuskegee Army Airfield were the focal points for the training of African-American military pilots, navigators, bombardiers, ground crews, and support staff during World War II. 
 
After his initial training, Lt. Lehman attended navigator/bombardier training areas at Hondo, Texas. Later at Lockbourne Air Force Base in Ohio, Lt. Lehman served as Post Exchange Officer while maintaining his flying status in B-25 bombers. 
 
In 1950, after the desegregation of the armed services, Lt. Lehman entered additional navigation training at Mather Air Force Base in California. He was then sent to Korea during the Korean War, where he flew approximately 68 missions. 
 
Lt. Lehman was promoted to Captain in 1952 and assigned to Fairchild Air Force base in Spokane, Washington with Strategic Air Command’s (SAC) 57th Air Division. Capt. Lehman earned an aeronautical rating of Senior Aircraft Observer, and later in June of 1957, he earned the rating of Senior Navigator. His coursework included training in Principles of Guided Missiles and Nuclear Weapons Delivery Operations. 
 
Capt. Lehman transferred to Westover Air Force Base in Massachusetts where he served as a navigator on top-secret B-36 and B-52 bombers with SAC. In 1960, he received the aeronautical rating of Master Navigator.
 
In 1965, he attended the foremost U.S. leadership college for air and space education — the Air War College at Maxwell Air Force Base in Montgomery. He was also working on his Master of Science degree in International Affairs at George Washington University in Washington, DC while attending the Air War College. He received his Master’s Degree in 1966. 
 
Lt. Col. Paul Lehman retired from the US Air Force after serving 27 years. 
 Stokes’ portrait of a younger Paul Lehman.
Stokes’ portrait of a younger Paul Lehman.

Charles Alfred Anderson, Part 2

In 1941, the Tuskegee Institute Board of Directors decided to construct an improved airfield to enable more students to train for and obtain their pilot’s licenses. To do this, $200,000 would be needed to build the runway and facilities. 
 
One of the entities contacted as a possible source for funding was the Julius Rosenwald Fund of Chicago, where Eleanor Roosevelt was a board member. The annual meeting of the Rosenwald Fund was held at Tuskegee with the First Lady in attendance. 
 
While there, Mrs. Roosevelt asked to see the existing airport and was taken to Airport No. 1, known as Kennedy Field. There, she was introduced to many of the student pilots and Alfred “Chief” Anderson. 
 
Alfred Anderson had become the first African-American to earn a commercial pilot license and had logged over 3,500 hours of flying. He was hired by the Tuskegee Institute to be their first flight instructor in 1939 and was now the chief instructor for the Tuskegee Institute’s Civilian Pilot Training Program. 
 
Mrs. Roosevelt was impressed with what she saw and asked Chief Anderson for a ride in his Piper Cub. Her Secret Service detail tried to stop it, but she explained, “Don’t tell the First Lady what she can and can’t do!” She proceeded to climb into the back seat, Anderson climbed into the front seat, and off they flew for what she described later as a delightful flight. 
 
This simple flight had big results. Soon after her visit, the Julius Rosenwald Fund donated $175,000 available, and construction of Moton Airfield quickly started. Eleanor Roosevelt continued to support black pilots and was delighted by what she witnessed.
 
First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt and pilot Alfred Anderson.

Charles Alfred Anderson, Part 1

As a young boy, Charles Alfred Anderson was fascinated by airplanes and knew he just had to fly. By the time he was 20, he had saved enough money for flying lessons; however, no one would teach a young black man to fly. Not deterred, Anderson attended aviation ground school, where he learned airplane mechanics, and spent time around airports, picking up information from white pilots wherever he could. 
 
Realizing the only way to learn to fly was by owning an airplane, he purchased a Velie Monocoupe with his savings and loans from friends and family. Members of a flying club eventually allowed him to join, but the instruction was not offered. Taxiing his airplane around the field, Anderson would periodically gun the engine, eventually finding himself aloft. With growing confidence, it was not long before the fledgling pilot taught himself to take off and land safely. 
 
A club member and experienced pilot, Russell Thaw, had no airplane but sought to visit his mother on weekends in Atlantic City. A bargain was struck. Thaw would rent and fly Anderson’s Monocoupe, and Anderson could come along, gaining valuable cross-country experience. Thus, Anderson was able to earn his pilot’s license in August 1929. Race continued to be an obstacle for Anderson as he was seeking to obtain an air transport pilot’s license, but help finally came from Ernest H. Buehl, known as “The Flying Dutchman.” He was a German aviator who had been invited to come to the United States in 1920 to help open transcontinental airmail routes. In February 1929, under Buehl’s tutelage and personal insistence, Anderson became the first African American to receive an air transport pilot’s license from the Civil Aeronautics Administration. 
 
In July 1933, Anderson met Dr. Albert E. Forsythe, a black physician, and pilot, who shared his goal of introducing fellow blacks to the field of aviation. Their record-setting and attention-grabbing flights proved effective, especially the pair’s roundtrip flight from Atlantic City, New Jersey to Los Angeles, California, the first-ever transcontinental roundtrip flight by black pilots. 
 
The duo made additional “first flights” for blacks to Canada and throughout the United States, capturing worldwide attention in the summer of 1934 when they flew their new Monocoupe, christened “The Booker T. Washington,” on a Pan American Good Will Tour.
Chief Anderson on the left Dr. Foresyth on the right.
Chief Anderson on the left and Dr. Foresyth on the right.

Roscoe J. Brown, Pt. 2

The Messerschmitt 262 Jet Kill

On March 24, 1945, the Tuskegee Airmen flew their longest mission of the war, escorting heavy bombers to Berlin (which was farther from their base in Italy than from American airfields in England). Over the German capital, they encountered Messerschmitt Me 262 jets.

To confront the bombers and fighters, the Luftwaffe had launched 30 Me 262s from Brandenburg Briest near Berlin. The Me 262s were 100 mph faster than the American P-51s. This gave the P-51s a great disadvantage in the air battles with the jets.

Capt. Brown stated in his mission report, “as we got over the outskirts of Berlin, I first saw these streaks, which I knew were jets…And they were coming up to attack the bombers.” I ordered the other P-51 pilots, “drop your tanks and follow me”.

Capt. Brown spotted one jet climbing toward the bombers. He had to do something fast.

“He didn’t see me,” Capt. Brown said. “And then I turned into his blind spot, put on my electronic gun sight, and there he was.

“I pulled up at him in a fifteen-degree climb and fired three long bursts at him from 2,000 feet at eight o’clock to him. Almost immediately, the pilot bailed out from about 24,500 feet. I saw flames burst from the jet engines of the enemy’s aircraft. The attack on the bombers was ineffective because of the prompt action of my flight in breaking up the attack.”

The pilot of the 262 was ten-kill air ace Oberleutnant Franz Kulp. During his bail-out, Kulp sustained severe wounds but survived. 

 

Rusty Burns and Roscoe Brown

Rusty Burns and Roscoe Brown, October 2008, at Moton Field, Tuskegee Alabama.

Roscoe J. Brown Jr., Pt 1.

Roscoe C. Brown Jr. was squadron commander of the 100th Fighter Squadron of the 332nd Fighter Group. During combat, he served as a flight leader and operations officer. He had graduated from the Tuskegee Flight School on March 12, 1944, as a member of class 44-C-SE.
 
The 100th Fighter Squadron deployed to the war in Europe as a part of the 332nd Fighter Group. Captain Brown’s first combat mission was flown in August 1944, escorting B-24 Liberator bombers over the Ploesti oil fields in Romania. Altogether he flew 68 combat missions, a combination of strafing runs and escort missions for heavy bombers and P-38 reconnaissance flights. During this period, Capt. Brown shot down an advanced German Me 262 jet fighter and an FW-190 fighter. He was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for these actions.
 
I had the pleasure of getting to know Roscoe Brown, now Dr. Brown. On one occasion, he had agreed to sign a couple of my paintings that I had created for him and his P-51D Mustang. In the accompanying photo, he just signed the painting after seeing it for the first time.
 
He was very proud of everything that the Tuskegee Airmen had to accomplish and the legacy that they had left. It was a sad day on July 2, 2016, when he passed. He lived an exemplary life and made such a difference in the world!
 

Part 2 will be about his big day tangling with a Messerschmitt 262 jet.

Roscoe Brown Tuskegee Pilot
Roscoe Brown, November 2008, having just signed my painting of him and his P-51.
 
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