California museum celebrates Tuskegee Airmen
The Reporter February 5, 2023
VACAVILLE, Calif. (Tribune News Service) — Dozens of patrons packed the Vacaville Museum on Saturday to learn more about the feats of the legendary Tuskegee Airmen, the first primarily Black military aviation crew.
Through video and research and testimony, Vietnam veteran and Tuskegee Airmen historian Aubrey Matthews took dozens of attendees back in history — and an amazing journey it was.
The talk was the second installment of the museum’s Aviation Forum speaker series.
As Matthews explained it, the Tuskegee Airmen came to be during World War II. More pilots were needed to help in the war effort and, so desperate was the U.S. that the government allowed a civilian pilot training program to include African Americans, as well as women.
Once trained, the first black flying squadron, the 99th, was deployed to North Africa and Tunisia. They escorted bomber pilots and ensured their safety.
The fighters were fierce, Matthews said, and were soon feared by the Germans.
“It’s like you take a bat and hit a beehive,” he said. “And what happens?”
In one instance, an American bomber lost three engines over enemy territory as it headed back to England. They saw three planes approaching and thought the worst.
“They saw the planes had red tails,” Matthews said, a signature of the Tuskegee Airmen, and knew they were saved.
The pilots surrounded the bomber, initially broke formation to shoot down two of eight German fighter planes, then continued on in formation once the Germans retreated.
Soon, the Tuskegee pilots became known as the “Red Tail Angels.”
Through his research and talks with surviving airmen and bomber pilots, Matthews has gained more insight.
He recalled many tears, especially from bomber pilots who told Matthews that the Tuskegee Airmen saved their lives.
The Airmen flew more than 1,800 missions and were awarded three Distinguished Unit Citations. In 2007, they were awarded a Congressional Gold Medal in 2007 by then-President George W. Bush.
While in the military, Matthews knew nothing of the vaunted team. Upon hearing about them, he needed to know more.
“It’s really something,” he said, of the history. “I wanted to share this... It really touched me. They did so much.”
Vacaville once had its own Tuskegee Airmen, he said, regarding Air Force Lt. Col. James Warren, who died in 2014.
A Vacaville interchange was named in his honor and a group at the Nut Tree, the Young Eagles, was created by Warren.
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