The Tuskegee Airmen | Walterboro Live
By VICKI BROWN
In 1939 the Second World War began. The country began scrambling to modernize and expand airfields, knowing that air power would be vital in protecting and supporting the United States.
By 1942, the US Army Air Force had acquired 3,712 acres around the small Anderson Airfield in Colleton County. The airfield itself was leased from the city of Walterboro. When the Americans entered the war, Anderson Airfield was recommissioned as Walterboro Army Airfield.
At that time, blacks had been denied the opportunity to enlist in the military as pilots. However, the US Air Force enlisted more than 500 African American pilots for the first time in US military history – and their training began.
In January 1941, the War Department formed the US Army Air Corps’ 99th Pursuit Squadron, the first all-Black pilots. Construction of the Walterboro Army Airfield and base was completed and the area was used as a training facility for B-25 bombers commanded by successful pilots returning from Pearl Harbor. Between 1944 and 1945, 500 Black Airmen were transferred to Walterboro and began training for service as a backup team for the 332 Fighter Group in Europe.
William Wheeler, an aviator training at Walterboro Air Field in 1944, once said that the heavy handling of the pitcher-nose P-47 fighter jet used in World War II was necessary but difficult. When the pilots of the 332nd Fighter Group painted the tail surfaces of their P-47s red, the nickname “Red Tails” was born. Red markings that distinguished the Tuskegee Airmen included red bands on the noses of the P-51s, as well as a red rudder.
The 332nd Squadron, using P-47 Thunderbolts and P-51 Mustangs, escorted bombers over Germany and protected them from Luftwaffe fighters. They rose to fame and were actually asked to support overseas bombers.
On January 18, 2022, retired Brigadier General Charles McGee — one of the last surviving members of the Tuskegee Airmen — died at the age of 102.
Brig. General McGee flew a record 409 combat missions in three wars, and although his plane was hit by enemy fire several times, he never crashed.
One of America’s first black military pilots, McGee was the son of a preacher and pledged to serve this country the day after his marriage. Tuskegee Airmen like McGee helped win WWII and defeat the Nazis: As a group, they flew more than 15,000 individual sorties in Europe and North Africa during WWII.
A memorial on the grounds of Lowcountry Regional Airport commemorates their service, as does a small museum next to Colleton Middle School.
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