Lucy Addison's Own Red Tails


    Beginning with the American Revolution, African-American men have always responded to the need for defending their country...even as their country failed in their defense.   Black warriors repeatedly faced America's adversaries as they encountered bigotry, injustice and hostility on what should have been the friendly side of their country's battle lines.  Whether opposing her declared enemies at their front or their undeclared enemies at their flank and rear, courageous men of African descent engaged both adversaries with resounding valor.

    In 1941, Tuskegee Airmen accepted the mantles of courage, discipline, fortitude and sacrifice passed to them by their forebears including Black Minutemen on Bunker Hill in the American Revolution, the Black 54th Massachusetts Infantry at Fort Wagner in the Civil War and the Black 9th and 10th Cavalry Units (Buffalo Soldiers) both in the Indian Wars and on San Juan Hill during the Spanish-American War. Tuskegee Airmen not only accepted their challenges as did their ancestors, they took their mantles to new levels.  Their successes in dealing with adversity on both sides of the battle line are unparalleled in America's history.  No battle unit ever had to overcome more obstacles just to gain its rightful place on the battle line.  Once there, no battle unit ever did more to distinguish itself.  Whether their adversaries were their own bigoted civilian and military "leaders" from America's mainland or German jet fighters patrolling over Italy or German propellar fighters stalking American bombers en route to German targets, our Tuskegee Airmen met the challenges of derogatory "friendly fire" in the figurative sense and deadly "enemy fire" in the literal sense.  With utter finality, they vanquished both forms of adversity.

     Ironically, having risen to the occasion and accomplished so much in full view of the entire world during World War II, their story was swept under the rug and kept hidden during their generation, their sons' generation and most of their grandsons' generation.  Thus, the Tuskegee Airmen story was deliberately and maliciously denied to uninformed black citizens deserving the awareness, acknowledgment and celebration of the deeds of their authentic, black American heroes.  And, of course, that same story was sadly withheld from indifferent, misinformed white audiences for the sole purpose of perpetuating the American myth of superior white character and accomplishment.   The truth could not serve the white goal of returning black champions to their former status as inferior, second class citizens.  As with much of its past, America opted for denial of reality. The feats of the Tuskegee Airmen remained hidden to ensure that such knowledge would promote neither black profit nor black pride.  Some fifty-five years later, at the dawn of the 21st century, the story of their accomplishments and heroism remained largely unheralded or, at best,  understated.   

    The facts though are indisputable. They were smarter than anticipated by military brass, once having scored so high on qualifying tests that superior officers accused them of cheating and forced them to take the tests a second time.  It made no difference, however; test scores were equally high the second time around. They were more disciplined than their white counterparts. When their mission was to escort bombers, unlike white squadrons, they chose to protect the bombers rather than abandoning them to chase enemy fighters. As a result, they were so efficient at providing fighter escort protection  that even bigoted white bomber pilots requested them as escorts.  During the entire war, they never lost a single bomber to enemy fighters.  They were arguably better fighters than their white American counterparts and white German enemies.  They were the first and only propeller fighter pilots to engage jet fighters in World War II.  On successive days, they engaged German jets over Europe and, on each occasion, they simply blew the German jets out of the sky ... downing five enemy jets while losing none of their own aircraft.

    During the war, the Tuskegee Airman flew 1,578 missions over North Africa and Southern Europe, including the historic Allied beach landing at Anzio, Italy.  At war's end, they became the most decorated American air unit of the entire war - receiving 744 air medals including 150 Distinguished Flying Crosses. They were 680 black men who did everything that was asked of them and more - with courage, with skill, with discipline and, often, with the supreme sacrifice.  From the world-wide Lucy Addison High School family to our admired and beloved Tuskegee Airmen, both the many who have already scrambled their fighters and taken off on their final, eternal mission, including our own Lieutenant Leroi Shelton Williams ‘36, Lieutenant Colonel Theodore Allen Wilson ‘37,  Lieutenant Ralph Vernon Claytor ‘40, and Lieutenant Eugene Warsenure Williams ‘42 and to the remaining few Red Tail pilots still taxiing down life's runway....

We Salute You!




Former Roanoker, Lewis Warren Rayford, 90, now living in Bowie, MD, wrote the following on January 27, 2012. Lewis attended Addison before joining the army during World War II.

    "In July 1944, I was stationed on the island of Corsica in the Mediterranean Sea.  One afternoon, at about 4:00PM, an unusual number of planes were in a landing pattern at the base I was assigned to.  My ammunition company was stationed about ten miles from the base landing field.  It was the first time I had ever seen planes with red tails.  One of the men  said that he thought they were Tuskegee Airmen.   I decided to see for myself when I arrived at the  air base.  All of the airmen were African-Americans;  I was thrilled...and proud.   They were the first African-American pilots I had ever seen.  "

    "I talked with some of them for about two hours.  They were returning from an escort mission over southern France.  To be able to stay with the big bombers until they completed their mission,  the fighters needed to stop in Corsica for refueling.  The Tuskegee Airmen were stationed in southern Italy at that time. "

Editor's Note

Lewis Rayford is the uncle of my wife, Peggy Jones Dudley. He grew up in Roanoke along with his brothers, Roosevelt and Philip and sisters, Elaine, Lorraine and Vivian.  They attended Lucy Addison along with the school's  four Tuskegee  Airmen.   The oldest sister Elaine, now deceased, was very close to the family of Airman Teddy Wilson.

Lt Leroi S Williams - 1936 Lt Col Teddy Wilson - 1937 Lt Ralph Claytor- 1940 Lt Eugene W Williams - 1942