In 1948, President Truman issued
Executive Order 9981 which called for "equality of treatment and opportunity" in
the armed forces. On March 7, 1942, young Black pilots stood at attention at
Tuskegee Army air Fields "lone runway" in Alabama. It was at this historic
graduation exercise that these men were inducted into the Army Air Corps. Having won
the right to fight, the Tuskegee airmen moved to the European Theatre, under LTC Davis
Jr., they had their first "taste of combat" against the highly fortified
Sicilian island of Pantelleria. The successful assault on the island marked another
first: "air power alone...completely destroyed all enemy resistance."
Having entered Sicily, they participated in the most famous battles of the Italian
peninsula: the invasion of
Salerno and Anzio, the battles
of Monte Cassino, and Rome; and then in southern Franc, Greece, the Balkans, and
finally Germany- all the while fulfilling with heroic deeds, the goals inherent in their
struggle for "the right to fight".
Their achievements, dead or alive, they
consecrated the final goal: the attainment of a complete and lasting integration of the
United States Armed Forces specifically and of American society in general.
"There were many who felt that integration would not work," Mr. Francis, author
of "The Tuskegee Airmen The Men Who changed a Nation", observed and concluded
that it "advanced beyond the hope of the most optimistic experiments of
integration. Negro officers and enlisted men were given the same privileges as
whites and treated as individuals rather than as a race." The crowning glory to
this attainment can be seen in the many important positions held by Black American men and
women in every service and every branch, and the Tuskegee Airmen, in no small measure,
made it all possible.