Most of us have at least heard of the Tuskegee Airmen — 994 African American men who served with valor in World War II, as pilots, bombardiers, navigators and ground crew. Although it is hard to fathom now, before World War II, no African American had been a pilot with the United States military. No African American had been allowed to hold high military rank.
Civil rights groups and the African American press put pressure on the powers that be — they persisted, and their determination finally won out with the formation of an all African American squadron, based in Tuskegee, Tennessee. This squadron would come to be called the Tuskegee Airmen. The Tuskegee Airmen made history. They were pioneers, trailblazers. They were heroes even before they began their training.
These men didn’t just serve, they didn’t just do as they were taught — they excelled. They are acknowledged to have been “one of the most highly-respected fighter groups of World War II.” (From the Tuskegee Airmen Inc. Website.)
Of the 994 men who served during World War II, about 200 are still with us, which is, in itself, exceptional. World War II ended 72 years ago. Even the youngest of those men who celebrated the end of the war will be well up in age now.
It is important that their contribution and their legacy be celebrated, but it is also crucial that their stories and experiences be recorded and preserved while they are still alive.
That’s where High Flight: the Tuskegee Airmen Legacy Project comes in. My friend and writing colleague, Michelle Y. Green, has spearheaded this project which began on Veteran’s Day, November 11, 2017. She and her team want to find as many of the surviving Airmen as possible, and learn and record their stories.
Michelle has a personal connection to the Airmen, which means her quest is born out of love as well as out of a passion for preserving history. Her father, Major Eddie Lee Young, was one of those Airmen — one of the few who was triple-rated. That is, he was trained not only as a pilot, but also as a navigator and bombardier. He stayed in the military after the end of World War II, flying in Korea and in Viet Nam.
It was a desire to preserve his story that led Michelle and her team to resolve to preserve as many Airmen’s experiences as they possibly can. All the people on her team have the personal connection to the Airmen necessary to create the burning tenacity that will drive them to see the project to fruition. And what a project it is! Their plans are exciting.
From their website, “Phase I, the research phase of the project, launched Veteran’s Day, November 11, 2015, and will conclude Veteran’s Day, November 11, 2017. High Flight will continue to build out as more stories are found. Phase II will focus on the development of standards-based, age appropriate, K-college curriculum; a documentary film; an interactive website; e-books; a literary and arts journal; a scholarship program; a Speakers’ Bureau; and other product development.” Doesn’t that sound amazing?
Michelle is an award-winning author who focuses on bringing to light the stories of African Americans whose history may otherwise be overlooked or forgotten. Her books include A Strong Right Arm: The Story of Mamie (“Peanut”) Johnson, and the Willie Pearl trilogy, based on the life of her mother.
Michelle is available for speaking engagements. Although her book High Flight: The Story of Eddie L. Young is not yet out, she has plenty of artifacts to share. I can just imagine how fascinating and moving her talks would be.
You can learn more about High Flight: the Tuskegee Airmen Legacy Project at their website. There, you will also find ways you can get involved in the project, and sign up for updates.
There is more information at the official website of Tuskegee Airmen International. You can find a pdf listing of Tuskegee Airmen buried at Arlington National Cemetery at Arlington’s website.
T is for the Tuskegee Airmen. It is for Tenacity, for Taking Time to listen to and record these stories, it’s for giving Thanks for and to the Tuskegee Airmen, as well as giving Thanks to and for the Legacy Project, and, since the Project is named after John Magee’s poem, High Flight, it is also for “Topping the windswept heights with easy grace.”