WILL ROGERS AIR NATIONAL GUARD BASE, Okla. --
99th Pursuit Squadron, 332nd Fighter Group
More than 16,000 men and women, more than 1,000 of those pilots
1,491 flying combat missions
DOWNED ENEMY AIRCRAFT: 112
AWARDS: 96 Distinguished Flying Crosses, 6 Distinguished Unit Citations
Activated in 1941 as the first African-American flying unit in combat and based in Tuskegee, Alabama, the pilots, navigators, bombardiers, maintenance and support staff, instructors, and other personnel of the 99th Pursuit Squadron (now known as the 99th Flying Training Squadron) celebrate their 75th anniversary as Tuskegee Airmen this year.
However, the focus is not just on the anniversary, but on the achievements and legacy of those Airmen. While accomplishing firsts in aviation during World War II, they courageously challenged the status quo to racially integrate facilities and programs.
Many of these changes began at their home base of Tuskegee Army Air Field.
On Aug. 3, 1944, 12 black officers entered a dining room reserved for white officers in the TAAF Post Exchange Restaurant. When asked to go to the other dining room, one of the officers offered two War Department letters in response. The letters noted that service at base recreational facilities and post exchanges would not be denied due to race. With that, the assistant exchange officer, 2nd Lt. George D. Frye, agreed to let the Airmen dine in the facility, successfully and peacefully integrating the restaurant.
After the effective completion of its mission, the all-black 332nd Fighter Group was inactivated and all personnel were reassigned to formally all-white units, July 1, 1949. Serving as the most important step for African-American military equality, the Air Force became the first service to officially mandate integration.
One of the reassigned Airmen was Maj. Charles B. Hall, who was born Aug. 25, 1920, in a Great Depression-stricken Brazil, Indiana. After attending college in Illinois, Hall volunteered as one of the first 43 black pilots assigned to 99th Pursuit Squadron.
He became the first African American to earn the Distinguished Flying Cross and the first African American to earn official credit for destroying an enemy aircraft in WWII. In 1949 after the deactivation of his unit, Hall began working at Tinker Air Force Base in Oklahoma City until his retirement in 1967. His death followed in 1971.
In honor of Hall and the Airmen he worked alongside, the airpark at Tinker AFB was renamed to become the Charles B. Hall Airpark in 2002. A statue of Hall greets visitors at the entrance to the airpark, still by that name.
Despite the aging of these WWII veterans and the plights they overcame, the legacy and lessons of the Tuskegee Airmen and Maj. Charles B. Hall still live on today, some in in the structures on Air Force bases, and others in the very structure of the U.S. Air Force.
To read the introduction to this series for African American History Month, click here
For part 2 of 4, click here.
For part 3 of 4, click here.
For part 4 of 4, click here.