Tuskegee Airman reflects on all-black unit's founding 75 years ago

Mon Mar 21, 2016 11:38am EDT
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(In paragraph 9, corrects to show that McGee is not a record-holder for combat flights in paragraph 12, corrects "332nd Fighter Group" to "Tuskegee Airmen")

By Kia Johnson

BETHESDA, Md. (Reuters) - Seventy-five years after the founding of the all-black Tuskegee Airmen, one of its most decorated pilots says the pioneering unit showed African-Americans' fighting worth at a time of deep racial discrimination.

Retired Colonel Charles McGee, 97, said he and fellow members of the 99th Fighter Squadron had no hesitation about fighting during World War Two and showing white America that black aviators could do the job.

"They say 'African-American' or 'black,' but we're American and our country was at war," McGee told Reuters.

"We were just as interested in supporting that effort as anybody else at that time and so we turned our back on the fact that there was segregation."

McGee's unit was formed on March 22, 1941, as the first all-black aviation unit of the racially segregated U.S. armed forces.

The 99th and subsequent squadrons became known as the Tuskegee Airmen for the Alabama airfield where they trained.

Known as the "Red Tails' for their aircraft markings, the Tuskegee Airmen's 332nd Fighter Group became such respected pilots that all-white bomber squadrons requested them as escorts over Nazi Germany.   Continued...

Tuskegee airman and U.S. Air Force fighter pilot Colonel Charles McGee reminisces about his career as a military pilot at his home in Bethesda, Maryland February 17, 2016.  REUTERS/Gary Cameron