In order to expand upon the meaning of Black History month, the Alpha Phi Omega National Service Fraternity Inc sponsored “Meet the Tuskegee Airmen” Tuesday at 7 p.m.
Noel R. Harris, Nasby Wynn, and Judge Robert Decatur came to Lee Hall Auditorium to enlighten the FAMU audience of their experiences as World War II fighters. The airmen, all of which, according to Decatur, Colin Powell calls “the wind beneath his wings” the only group to never lose a bomber to enemy fire, according to the introduction of speakers given by Dennis Jackson, member of the Air force ROTC. Mr. and Ms. FAMU were in attendance, along with about 150 people who made up the audience.
As a group, the airmen have been awarded more than 850 medals and have had a HBO original movie in their honor, which debuted in 1995.
The picture, literally, placed us in front of the world, said Decatur, a native of Chicago who became a part of World War II in 1943, and was honorably discharged in 1946.
All of the airmen agreed that racism and segregation were characteristic of the time in which they served in the war against Germany. Racism was so prevalent during that era that Harris told of a time that he and a friend were skipped over by the priest, due to his race, at a Catholic Church during Holy Sacrament.
The Airmen remembered racial tension in the army, as well.
“White Southerners thought that we had no brains or rhythm,” said Wynn, a native of New York, who was a USAF Lt. Col. Ret. “When they took us in in 1941, they were disproved.”
Things were pretty well proven what we could do [sic],” Wynn said.
Wynn entered the army in 1944 and was honorably discharged in 1946.
“When war rumors were around when I was in my later years in high school, I expressed interest in joining the army,” Wynn said. However, since there had never been any group of army men like those of the Tuskegee Airmen, people doubted the probability that he would be able to join.
“July 1941, Major General Walt Weaver urged the black community to ignore political, social, and economic (classifications) that would decrease chances of blacks serving,” said Harris, a native of New York, who entered the army in 1944 and was honorably discharged in 1946.
Two years later, President Truman’s executive order allowed for army enrollment for blacks.
“Truman’s executive order 9981 desegregated all units
in the army, navy, and so on,” said Wynn. Although Truman had integrated the
war’s fighters to include both African Americans and Caucasians, the airmen
said that they still experienced discrimination due to their race. “Many,
many obstacles were placed in our path,” said Decatur. With, “33 prisoners
of war, 1500 missions across European skies, 446 planes shot out of the sky
by the Tuskegee Airmen, (and a sunken) German destroyerÃ¢€| [Which has] never
duplicated again,” said Decatur, the airmen were still considered to be
second class citizens. The Tuskegee Airmen knocked down 13 planes in one day
and 12 the next, said Decatur, yet the airmen still realized that they were
considered to be inferior to their white counterparts, who were also serving
in the war. The United States mentality had been that blacks lacked the
intellect to fly planes, said Decatur.
There was a book that gave whites instructions on how to treat blacks,
Decatur went on to say. Blacks were labeled as being, “indolent, lazy,
undisciplined.|Whites were taught that blacks should always be commanded by
white officers and at no time should blacks command whites,” said Decatur.
When a FAMU student from the audience asked what made the airmen want to
fight for a country that gave them second class citizenship, Wynn responded,
“This is the only country that I know. Why shouldn’t I want to fight for it
even when they give us second class citizenship?”
The Red Tail Angels, which was what the Tuskegee airmen were known as, were
the Americans that the Germans feared the most. However, they feel as though
they were not treated as the hero-like treatment that whites received when
they returned back to American soil. “We weren’t welcomed back the way I
felt and many felt that we should have been welcomed back,” said Wynn. He
reminded the audience to say, “welcome back” anytime they see a person who
served in Vietnam or WWII.
In addition to not being welcomed back, Decatur explained that it took him
half of a century to be thanked. He told a story of an instance when a white
man pulled him aside and told Decatur that he saved this particular man’s
life. “It has taken 50 years for someone to walk up and say thank you,” said
Decatur. After his story, Decatur pled with the audience to “never let the
legacy dieÃ¢€| [And to] pass on the legacy of the Tuskegee Airmen.”
The program ended with the singing of the Negro National Anthem, and the
airmen being applauded for being such a significant part of an
African-American legacy that can never die.