During World War II, the U.S. military forces were completely segregated. African-Americans who desired to serve their country had to do so in racially separate units. One group that served with particular distinction was the men of the 332nd Fighter Group and the 477th Bombardment Group of the U.S. Army Air Corps (now the Air Force). They became known as the Tuskegee Airmen.
Their name came from their place of training, Tuskegee Institute in Alabama. The school had led the way in training young black men in the Civilian Pilot Training Program, so when the War Department needed a home for the new fighters, TI became the logical choice. In addition to pilots, they trained to fill all necessary crew positions, including navigators and bombardiers.
Their combat record was outstanding. They flew more than 15,000 sorties, destroyed 112 enemy planes in the air (and another 150 on the ground), and the group’s members earned 150 Distinguished Flying Crosses.
In 2007, President George W. Bush honored 350 members of the unit with the Congressional Gold Medal. At a time when the intelligence, patriotism, and work ethic of African-Americans was in question, the Tuskegee Airmen did their part to dispel prejudice and bigotry.