Imagine this: you’re in college but you don’t have a roommate. You have to eat alone. You aren’t spoken to outside of class in the four years you attend.

It would break most people, but instead, it inspired Benjamin Davis to graduate and go forward to become the Commander of the elite Tuskegee Airmen who protected Allied bombers in WWII. I recently learned more about this piece of our neglected story in a film about the distinctive Red Tails (the markings on their planes). The Airmen were a major contributor to the war, but the barriers they overcame to achieve it are even more remarkable.

When Pearl Harbor was attacked, racism was more overt than it is today. Black men were segregated and only served as cooks or other support roles in the armed forces. In 1942, in Tuskegee Alabama, an elite, yet separate, experimental pilot training program began in response to the war. It took First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt flying with the Airmen to provide it credibility instead of them being seen as “inferior beings.” Tuskegee Airmen were then deployed throughout the war and gave bomber escorts on over 1500 missions. The Red Tail Squadron became known as “red tail angels” because of their skill in providing protection to the bombers. They went from being shunned to being requested by the pilots and becoming integral to the Allied success.

No one who participates in war has it easy, but the Tuskegee Airmen had to overcome so many obstacles just to serve. They came back to continued segregation and did not receive their due recognition until decades later. I encourage you to learn more about their story.

“Triumph over adversity” is the motto of the Red Tails — a good lesson for all of us to take to heart.

Restored Red Tail P-51C Mustang at the Rise Above exhibit at the Dubuque Regional airport

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