Thursday, August 17, 2006

Is Sixty Years Too Long a Wait?

Segregated black pilots in WWII, flew 10,000 sorties into Nazi Germany and never lost a bomber they escorted. Congress awarded them a medal (after 60 years) and can't seem to get it produced while they are still alive to accept it.

Army combat engineers can build a bridge across a river and have tanks crossing on it in ten hours. George Bush can decide to give the Presidential Medal of Freedom to L. Paul Bremer, the guy who initially screwed up Iraq, and the presentation happens double-quick.
You did a helluva job, Paul.
But for some reason or another, five months after Congress voted to bestow its highest honor, the Congressional Gold Medal, on a couple hundred remaining heros still living from WWII, the award is not yet given or even produced.
Tuskegeeimage A word about these guys, the Tuskegee Airmen. They were a segregated United States Air Force squardron, 994 black pilots who were trained at Tuskegee Institute in 1942.
Their squadron, led by Benjamin Davis, Jr., himself initially barred from flight training because of his color, went on to shatter air combat records. After the war, Davis became the first black Air Force officer to attain the rank of general, retiring in 1970 with three stars.
TuskegeebenjamindavisFrom the Tuskegee Airmen web site;
Perhaps the most spectacular mission flown by the 332d was its mission on March 24, 1945, when Davis led the 332d on a 1,600-mile round trip escort mission to Berlin. on that day, the Tuskegee Airmen met numerous Fw-190s and at least 30 of the new German Me 262 jet aircraft. The Tuskegee Airmen shot down three of the jets and damaged another six fighters. one of the Tuskegee Airmen was lost on this mission, but none of the bombers were lost, despite the fact that the Germans threw their latest and fastest fighters at the Americans .
Tuskegeep51mustangjpg Prior to March 24, only two jets had been shot down by any Allied airmen, and on that day the third, fourth, and fifth were destroyed by the Tuskegee Airmen.
How good were they? Davis and his men had destroyed far more aircraft than they lost--shooting down 111 enemy aircraft and destroying 150 aircraft on the ground, while losing 66 aircraft to all causes in the US and combat zones. The Tuskegee Airmen had also shattered or disabled more than 600 boxcars and other rolling stock. They had sunk one destroyer (a unique achievement) and more than 40 other boats and barges.
Tuskegeebendavis5Most importantly, the Tuskegee Airmen had not lost a bomber to an enemy fighter during 200 escort missions, totaling about 10,000 sorties into some of the Third Reich's most heavily defended areas. It was a tribute to their skill and to Davis's leadership. He made the 332d a disciplined fighter group that knew they performed their escort missions as well as any in the entire Air Corps.
Veterans from WWII are becoming fewer by the moment. The ‘Lonely Eagles’ section of the Tuskegee Airmen lists six pilots who died in 2005 and twenty-two so far this year. An escalation of sorts, while medal-makers dither. Quoting a Washington Post artiicle;
 Tuskegeeltcolleearcher_1 "There is some concern," said retired Col. Lee Archer, 84, of New Rochelle, N.Y., the nation's first black combat ace. "Since Congress approved it, I know of three people who have passed on and will never see it. But I have no intention of dying before we get the medal."
An aide to Rep. Charles B. Rangel (D-N.Y.), who co-sponsored legislation authorizing the medal, said the congressman had hoped the medal would be ready in time to be awarded during the annual convention of the Congressional Black Caucus in early September.
But the aide, Emile Milne, said several revisions to a design submitted by the aviators group have delayed the medal's issuance. Milne said the medal originally was to have featured the images of three aviators on the front and aircraft on the medal's reverse side. He said efforts to simplify the design have led to delays.
"There will be only one gold medal, which will sit in the Smithsonian, honoring the contributions of nearly 1,000 African American pilots who served heroically in World War II under the banner of the Tuskegee Airmen," Milne said. "Everyone wants to get it right."
Revisions to the design submitted by war heros? Simplification? Simplify this, Milne--get your simple butt in gear and make it happen--now will not be too soon. 10,000 sorties into Nazi Germany ought to be worth a single sortie to whoever's making these medals.
Everyone does want to get it right, but everyone left wants to get it before they die.
Check out what others have to say about the Tuskegee Airmen:

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