Posts tagged ‘Tuskegee Airmen’

SHAKO: Celebrating Two Ground Breakers — USAF Gen. Charles McGee and USN Cmdr. Billie Farrell

A Red Tail Remembered.

Retired Air Force General Charles McGee, who flew combat missions in three wars, has died at the age of 102. McGee was one of the last surviving members of the fabled Tuskegee Airmen, black fighter pilots who battled Nazis in the air over Europe and racism on the ground back in America during World War Two.

Former Tuskegee Airman, retired then-Colonel Charles McGee, high-fives Airmen during his visit December 6, 2019, at Dover Air Force Base, Delaware. He served a total of 30 years in the U.S. Air Force, beginning with the U.S. Army Air Corps, and flew a total of 409 combat missions in World War II, Korea and Vietnam. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Christopher Quail)

McGee, who died at home on January 16, was a member of the famed Tuskegee Airmen, an all-black training unit of fighter pilots in the segregated Army Air Forces. In February 1944, McGee was stationed in Italy with the 332nd Fighter Group. He flew the Bell P-39Q Airacobra, then the Republic P-47D Thunderbolt and finally the North American P-51 Mustang, escorting B-24 Liberator and B-17 Flying Fortress bombers over Germany, Austria and the Balkans. He also engaged in low level attacks over enemy airfields and railyards.

After the war, McGee stayed in what became the U.S. Air Force in 1947, flying a total of 405 combat missions in World War II, Korea and Vietnam — an Air Force record. He retired as a colonel in 1973 and was honorarily promoted to brigadier general in a 2020 White House ceremony.

The son of a preacher, McGee was born in Cleveland on December 7, 1919. A lifelong leader, he distinguished himself as an Eagle Scout in his youth and remained an inspirational leader throughout his three-decade military career and beyond, the Air Force magazine website reported.

Then Captain Charles McGee and his crew chief Nathaniel Wilson in 1944, stand beside McGee’s P-51C Mustang, named “Kitten” for McGee’s wife, Frances, but also because Wilson kept the plane purring like one.

McGee enlisted in the Army on Oct. 26, 1942—one day after his wedding—and earned his pilot’s wings June 30, 1943. McGee flew his first combat mission on Valentine’s Day, 1944, with the 301st Fighter Squadron, 332nd Fighter Group, in Italy. When the pilots of the 332nd Fighter Group painted the tails of their P-47s red, they were nicknamed “Red Tails.” Unlike other fighter pilots who abandoned their bomber escort duties to engage in one-on-one dogfights with Luftwaffe fighters, the Red Tails earned the respect of the bomber crews by staying with their charges and losing very few bombers on their watch.

McGee was promoted to major in the Air Force during the Korean War, flying 100 more combat missions in P-51 Mustangs from the 67th Fighter Bomber Squadron. In Vietnam, as a lieutenant colonel, McGee flew another 172 combat missions in the McDonnell RF-4 reconnaissance aircraft. He retired January 31, 1973 as a full colonel and accumulated more than 6,300 flight hours.

In 2007, as a member of the Tuskegee Airmen, McGee received the Congressional Gold Medal. In 2011, he was inducted into the National Aviation Hall of Fame.

For more information and photos of General McGee, see this Defense Department posting.

Artist’s illustration of McGhee’s P-51 Mustang, “Kitten,” (U.S. Air Force art via Wikipedia)

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New Commander for ‘Old Ironsides’

For the first time in its 224-year history, the USS Constitution, “Old Ironsides”, will have a woman skipper.

Commander Billie J. Farrell will take charge the oldest ship in the U.S. Navy during a change-of-command ceremony in Boston, scheduled for Friday, January 21, at noon.

USS Constitution is underway during Chief Petty Officer Heritage Weeks in Boston Harbor on October 29, 2021. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Alec Kramer) Click on photo to enlarge the image.

As the 77th commanding officer of USS Constitution, Farrell will become the first woman to serve as captain since 1797.

“I am honored to have the privilege to soon command this iconic warship that dates back to the roots of both our nation and our Navy,” Farrell said, according to a Navy press release. “I hope to strengthen the legacy of USS Constitution through preservation, promotion and protection by telling her story and connecting it to the rich heritage of the United States Navy and the warships serving in the fleet today,” she added.

Constitution, is the world’s oldest commissioned warship afloat, and played a crucial role in the Barbary Wars and the War of 1812, actively defending sea lanes from 1797 to 1855.

During normal operations, the active-duty Sailors stationed aboard Constitution provide free tours and offer public visitation to more than 600,000 people a year as they support the ship’s mission of promoting the Navy’s history and maritime heritage and raising awareness of the importance of a sustained naval presence. Constitution was undefeated in battle and destroyed or captured 33 opponents.

The ship earned the nickname of Old Ironsides during the war of 1812 when British cannonballs were seen bouncing off the ship’s wooden hull.

Commander Billie J. Farrell, new skipper and first woman to command USS Constitution. (U.S. Navy photo)

Commander Farrell previously served as the executive officer aboard the Ticonderoga-class guided missile cruiser USS Vicksburg (CG 69).

She is a native of Paducah, Kentucky, and a graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy and the University of Arkansas.

As USS Constitution’s crew welcomes Farrell, they will say farewell to the ship’s current commanding officer, Commander John Benda

“I know the crew is in great hands with Commander Farrell,” said Benda. “This historic barrier is long overdue to be broken. I cannot think of a better candidate to serve as USS Constitution’s first female commanding officer. I look forward to watching what she and the crew accomplish in the next few years.”

While Farrell is Constitution’s first female skipper, she won’t be the first woman to serve aboard the old frigate.

The first female commissioned officer aboard Constitution was Lieutenant Commander Claire V. Bloom, who served as executive officer and led the historic 1997 sail, the first time Old Ironsides sailed under her own power since 1881.

The first female crew member was Rosemarie Lanam, an enlisted Sailor, who joined Constitution’s crew in 1986.

Today women comprise more than one third of the frigate’s 80-person crew.

Seaman Jaida Williams, assigned to the USS Constitution, climbs the mizzenmast shroud during weekly sail training in 2019. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Casey Scoular) Click on photo to enlarge image.

January 20, 2022 at 11:12 pm Leave a comment

FRIDAY FOTO (January 3, 2020)

Gray (and Graying) Formation.

JBSA-Randolph focuses on building Instructor Pilot’s Skills

(U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sergeant Christopher Boitz)

Looking (from this angle) more like wingless, flying cars out of a science fiction movie, a trio of T-38C Talons travel in a tight formation over Texas. This December 19, 2019 photo was taken while the T-38s — which do have wings — were returning to Joint Base San Antonio after a training flight.

The Northrop T-38 was the world’s first supersonic advanced jet trainer and has served as the Air Force’s primary aircraft for training fighter pilots since 1961. The Air Force Air Education and Training Command uses the T-38C variant to prepare pilots for front-line fighter and bomber aircraft such as the F-15E Strike Eagle, F-15C Eagle, F-16 Fighting Falcon, B-1B Lancer, A-10 Thunderbolt and F-22 Raptor.

The twin-engine, high-altitude Talon has been used in a variety of roles because of its “design, economy of operations, ease of maintenance, high performance and exceptional safety record,” according to the January 2014 Air Force fact sheet. The dart-like jet is also used by NASA and the Turkish Air Force and was flown in the past by the air forces of Germany, Portugal, South Korea and Taiwan.

However, there have been at least a half a dozen crashes involving ageing U.S. T-38s since November 2017, according to the Stars and Stripes newspaper.  The worn out T-38s are restricted from making the tight turns of today’s fighters, lest they disintegrate in midair, Smithsonian’s Air & Space magazine reported in 2018. Pilots training on the F-22 and F-35 must undergo additional training in F-16s to verify that they can handle the G-forces, Air & Space noted.

On September 27, 2018, the Air Force awarded The Boeing Company a contract, worth up to $9.2 billion, to procure 351 Advanced Pilot Training (APT T-X) aircraft and 46 Ground-Based Training Systems to replace the existing fleet of T-38C jet trainers, according to the Congressional Research Service.

The new trainer was officially named the T-7A Red Hawk, to honor the Tuskegee Airmen, the African-American fighter pilots of World War II — who were known as the Red Tails because they decorated their P-47 Thunderbolts and P-51 Mustangs with a red-tailed paint scheme.

Oh, and by the way — Happy New Year everyone!

January 3, 2020 at 1:03 pm Leave a comment

SHAKO: Pearl Harbor, Plus 78; Tuskegee Airman, Plus 100 UPDATE

Double-Barreled Day of Note.

December 7, is remembered by many Americans (after 78 years it may no longer be accurate to say most Americans) as the Date of Infamy, the day of the devastating Japanese air attack on Pearl Harbor and other U.S. military installations in the Hawaiian Islands.

And we’ll get to that in just a moment, but we found out from local radio station WTOP that today, December 7, 2019, one of the famous Tuskegee Airmen — retired Air Force Colonel Charles E. McGee — turned 100. We thought it would be good idea to link the two commemorations in our December 7 Blog.

P-51B (serial unknown) KITTEN of 2Lt. Leon ‘Woodie’ Spears, 302nd FS, Ramitelli, Italy, March 1945

Illustration of Charles McGee’s World War II P-51 Mustang, named “Kitten.” (U.S. Air Force art via Wikipedia)

The Survivor.

World War II Veterans visit MCBH

(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Marine Corps Corporal Matthew Kirk)

Seventy-eight years ago aircraft carrier-borne planes attacked Pearl Harbor Naval Base and Hickham Army Air Forces Field and what was then Naval Air Station Kaneohe Bay. More than 2,400 military personnel and civilians were killed that day, 1,178 more were wounded. The attack by Imperial Japanese Navy fighters, bombers and torpedo planes also sank or damaged eighteen Navy vessels and  destroyed more than 180 Army, Navy and Marine Corps aircraft.

For decades, the survivors of that attack have returned to Hawaii to commemorate the tragedy and honor the dead. And every year the number of survivors still with us shrinks. The Best Defense Foundation returned six Pearl Harbor and Naval Air Station Kaneohe Bay survivors to Hawaii for the 78th commemoration this December.

One of those tough old members of the Greatest Generation, Donald Long — a retired Navy radio operator — is in the photo above, hugging a Mokapu Elementary School student during his visit to Marine Corps Base Hawaii.

Long was a new sailor standing watch on a seaplane moored in a bay on the other side of the island of Oahu when the Japanese struck that Sunday morning. He saw the smoke and fire and heard the explosions coming from afar, but soon Japanese planes attacked Kaneohe Bay, too. They strafed his plane, setting it afire. He had to swim for his life through flames on the oil and gasoline covered waters.

The First.

One of the legendary heroes of Pearl Harbor that day was Doris “Dorrie” Miller a sailor who was doing laundry below deck on the battleship USS West Virginia, when the attack began.

Pearl Harbor 2019 Doris-Miller-1942

Dorrie Miller wearing his Navy Cross

He was awarded the Navy Cross, the Navy’s second highest decoration for bravery, for his actions on December 7. He was also the first African American to receive the award. The Army and Navy were largely segregated all-white organizations in 1941 and the few blacks in the services were assigned menial jobs, like Miller, a messman — essentialy a waiter, busboy and dishwasher — on the West Virginia. Nevertheless, when a torpedo struck the ship, Miller began carrying the wounded to safety. Among them was the ship’s commander, Captain Mervyn Bennion, who was mortally wounded. Miller then manned a .50-calibre anti-aircraft gun, for which he had no training, and continued firing on the enemy planes until he ran out of ammunition and was ordered to abandon ship.

There’s more to the story, some of it is sad,  click here to read more.

The Aviator.

Charles E. McGee wasn’t at Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, but it was his 22nd birthday. Within two years he would be flying fighter planes — they were called pursuit planes back then (P-40, P-47, P-51) — against the German Luftwaffe over Central Europe and the Balkans.

PEARL HARBOR 78th Anniv the-Colonel-and-his-cheif-mechanic

Then Captain Charles McGee and his crew chief Nathaniel Wilson in 1944, stand beside McGee’s P-51C Mustang, named “Kitten” for McGee’s wife, Frances, but also because Wilson kept the plane purring like one.

He was a member of the famed Tuskegee Airmen, an all black training unit of fighter pilots in the segregated Army Air Forces. By February 1944, McGee was stationed in Italy with the 302nd Fighter Squadron of the 332nd Fighter Group. He flew the Bell P-39Q Airacobra, then the Republic P-47D Thunderbolt and finally the North American P-51 Mustang, escorting B-24 Liberator and -17 Flying Fortress bombers over Germany, Austria and the Balkans. He also engaged in low level attacks over enemy airfields and rail yards.

After the war, McGee stayed in what later became the U.S. Air Force, flying a total of 405 combat missions in World War II, Korea and Vietnam — an Air Force record. He retired as a colonel in 1973.

Former Tuskegee Airman celebrates 100th birthday

U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Christopher Quail)

The retired colonel high-fived airmen in the photo above during a visit to Dover Air Force Base in Delaware on December 6, 2019 — the day before his 100th birthday. McGee served a total of 30 years in the Air Force, beginning with the Army Air Corps, and flew a total of 409 combat missions in World War II, Korea and Vietnam. Click here to see an interview he did with Washington radio station WTOP.

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SHAKO-West Point cadets

SHAKO is an occasional 4GWAR posting on military history, traditions and culture. For the uninitiated, a shako is the tall, billed headgear worn by many armies from the Napoleonic era to about the time of the American Civil War. It remains a part of the dress or parade uniform of several military organizations like the corps of cadets at the U.S. Military Academy, West Point, New York.

 

December 8, 2019 at 1:03 am Leave a comment


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