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Remembering the Tuskegee Airmen & Nurses

By Autumn L. Hendrickson and Michael T. Naya, Jr. - Young Historians

photo by National Archives

Many people have heard of the Tuskegee Airmen, but not many people understand what that title truly means. The Tuskegee Airmen did not make up a single unit, but three major units: the 99th Pursuit Squadron, the 332nd Fighter Group, and the 477th Bombardment Group. All of these except for the 477th Bombardment Group went overseas to Europe and saw heavy combat. In fact, when the war came to a close, statistics that were gathered from the 332nd Fighter Group showed that the group had one of the best escort ratings of the entire Army Air Corps, meaning that the bombers they escorted did not get shot down by enemy fighters nearly as often as they might with another escort group.

As the war in Europe progressed, the Tuskegee Airmen continued to serve valiantly with many of them reenlisting following the wars close. In 2007, the Tuskegee AIrmen were awarded the Congressional Gold Medal for their service in reforming the armed forces during World War II. In 2021, the Tuskegee Airmen National Historic Site Quarter will begin to be produced by the United States Mint.

Looking back on the past year, we have lost countless Tuskegee Airmen and African American pilots of World War II. These airmen include Malcome Nettingham, Theodore Lumpkin, George W. Biggs, Alfred T. Farrar, Reginald Brewster, Rudolph Archer, James Cotten, Frank Macon, Henry Evans, Joe Johnson and most recently Robert Holts.

However, the ground-breaking nature of this exceptional group of Black Americans did not end with male pilots: there were brave and intelligent Black female nurses standing right behind these brave pilots, and they were known as the Tuskegee Nurses. Many of these women, who received their name because they trained alongside the Tuskegee Airmen, ended up going overseas to serve in the 25th Station Hospital Unit, the first all-Black unit of nurses to go overseas. The men they treated were largely members of airfield ground crews and rubber plantation workers, and most of the cases they received were men walking in with malaria. Many nurses however were not sent overseas but rather were stationed at Tuskegee Army Air Field, Alabama where the Tuskegee Airmen trained.

Tuskegee nurses paved the way for generations of African American nurses. They strove to seek equality in the nursing field in non-segregated hospitals. The last known Tuskegee nurse - Irma Cameron Dryden - passed away on September 17, 2020 at the age of 100. Because of this, we should continue to remember, honor and promote the legacy of the Tuskegee Airmen and Nurses in order to inspire, educate and reinforce their role in our nation's history.

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Tuskegee airmen attending a briefing. First row: 1. Hiram E. Mann, Cleveland, OH, Class 44-F; 2. Walter Downs; 3. Newman C. Golden, Cincinnati, OH, 44-G; 4. Bertram W. Wilson, Jr., Brooklyn, NY, 44-E; 5. Samuel W. Watts, Jr., New York, NY, 44-E. Second row: 6. Armour G. McDemoe, Martinsville, VA, 43-A; 7. Howard C. Gamble, Charles Town, WV, 43-K; 8. Harry T. Steward, Jr. Corona, NY, 44-F; 9. Earle R. Lane, Wickliffe, OH, 44-D; 10. Wyrain T. Shell, Brooklyn, NY, 44-F; 11. Harold M. Morris, Seattle, WA, 44-D; 12. John E. Edwards, Steubenville, OH, 44-C; 13. John H. Porter, Cleveland, OH, 44-C; 14. James H. Fischer, Stoughton, MA44-G; 15. Wyrain T. Shell, Brooklyn, NY, 44-F?; Third row: 16. William E. "Porky" Rice?, Swarthmore, PA, 44-G; 17. Tony Weaver; 18. Charles L. White, St. Louis, MO, 44-C; 19. George Arnold Lynch, Valley Stream, NY, 44-F; 20. Samuel L. Washington, Cleveland, OH, 44-F; 21. Calvin J. Spann, Rutherford, NJ, 44-G; 22. Frank N. Wright, Elmsford, NY, 44-F. The image was taken at Ramitelli, Italy, 1st March 1945. Photographer: Tony Frissell. Photo: Library of Congress - Ref: 12447 Minor Image Repair & Colorization - Nathan Howland @HowdiColourWorks

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