"State" Grads Took to the Sky as Tuskegee Airmen


The upcoming George Lucas film,Red Tails, tells the story of the Tuskegee Airmen, an elite group of African American pilots in World War II who valiantly fought the enemy in battle and discrimination on the ground in the segregated armed forces. What some people may not realize is that the famed Tuskegee Airmen have a West Virginia State University connection.

In 1939 WVSU (then College) was one of only six Historically Black Colleges or Universities to be given permission to establish a Civilian Pilot Training Program. Flight training was conducted at nearby Wertz Field where the chemical complex now stands. Instructors included James E. Evans who was sent to set up the courses and Joseph Grider, a faculty member who was a licensed pilot.

After completing their course work at "State" the ten men and one woman from the first class traveled to Tuskegee Institute to enroll for further training. Of the first five pilots to become Tuskegee Airmen, two were graduates of West Virginia State. George Spencer "Spanky" Roberts from Fairmont WV was appointed Commanding Officer of the 99thPursuit Squadron. Mac Ross from Dayton Ohio was appointed Commanding Officer of the 100thPursuit Squadron.

During World War II, the 99th Fighter Squadron , the 100th, 301st, and 302d Fighter Squadrons, together, they were known as the 332nd Fighter group. The 332nd had diverse roles, including attacking enemy installations and troop concentrations, engaging in air combat in the skies of northern Italy and providing bomber escort missions for the Fifteenth Air Force.

Members of the 332ndearned 150 Distinguished Flying Crosses, 744 Air Medals, numerous Purple Hearts, and 14 Bronze Stars. They became known as the Red-tail Angels by U.S. allies, because of the red paint on the tail assemblies of their P-51 Mustangs. The Germans learned to fear them, giving them the name, "Schwartze Vogelmenshen," or Black Birdmen.

Although the Tuskegee Airmen had fought for the right to fight they returned after WWII to a segregated armed forces and a segregated society. It wasn't until 1948, three years after the war ended, the President Harry Truman signed and executive order calling for equal treatment and opportunity in the armed forces.

For additional information on the Tuskegee Airmen go to the WVSU web page. Click on "about" and then "history" http://www.wvstateu.edu/about-wvsu/history/tuskegee-airmen-wvsu-connection





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