Aviators on What's Right About 'Red Tails'

RedTails.jpgI still haven't seen Red Tails, and the head-to-head conflict this evening is not just the latest GOP slugfest in Florida but also (if you're in DC) a live book event at Politics & Prose with my friend and the Atlantic's longtime stalwart Cullen Murphy, on his wonderful new book God's Jury. But there's always tomorrow.

For now, some reactions from aviators who have seen the film. First from long-time flyer and aviation-writer Stephan Wilkinson:

As a pilot since 1967, former executive editor of Flying, and a member of and youth mentor for the Tuskegee Airmen local chapter (Newburgh, NY), I'm delighted to read your encouragement of people to go see the film. 

I frequent a number of aviation and warbird forums in my current work as an aviation-history freelancer, and it's dismaying to read the many comments from anoraks condemning the film for its "historical inaccuracy," by which they mean wrong-era insignia or the use of CGI airplanes.  Assumedly, they'd have preferred that Lucas lease dozens of P-51s and B-17s for aerial filming, probably killing several pilots in the process, and none of them seem to understand that the film is for an audience of teenage boys--particularly African-American boys--and not 60-year-old rivet-counters.

And from a former Blue Angels commander:

Back in 1997-1998 I had the unique privilege to be the commanding officer and flight leader of the Blue Angels.  On MLK day I watched a trailer regarding "Red Tails" and it drew me back to a memorable experience from those days.......

We were in Winter Training evaluating who we should invite for media rides in our 2-seat FA-18B to gain national media exposure for USN and USMC.  We reviewed a letter from an airline pilot nominating his father, a Tuskegee Airman, for a media flight to highlight the 50th anniversary of the Tuskegee Airmen.  As he was in his 70's we were easily inclined to file it under "nice idea, but unable" except that was the timeframe when John Glenn was preparing to fly in the space shuttle, also in his 70's.  I recommended we do two things -- 1) ask the national TA HQ who they would like us to fly to represent them and 2) evaluate the risks of flying that person.  TA HQ concurred with the son's nomination and a health screen indicated no undue risk if maneuvers were limited within reason/comfort.

The gentleman came to El Centro and had a wonderful flight in the #7-jet.  Afterward he returned to the BOQ to change into TA presentation clothes (maroon blazer with TA crest, gray slacks, tie) and we assembled all 125 members of the squadron to hear him tell his story of overcoming significant discrimination and racism in order to serve his country in aerial combat in Europe.  He didn't dwell on the racism part, but he didn't sugarcoat it either. The big takeaway was hearing from him the same values we held dear: Honor, Courage, Commitment.  And 50 years later he and his TA brothers are still serving, speaking in public, visiting schools and youth groups to inspire young people to make a difference.  Wow.

About the same time, we held quarters the workday before MLK weekend.  I started the meeting by setting the stage for most too young to remember the 60's by highlighting the context of those times and the Civil Rights movement.  A couple days before I had asked six members of the squadron to read portions of MLK's "I have a dream speech" and assigned them sections to prepare and practice.   It was powerful that day to hear them take turns read his memorable words loud and clear as we all reflected on those challenging days.

After a pause to let what we just heard sink in, I ended the meeting by simply saying, "The Blue Angels only have two colors -- blue and gold."

Here's hoping George Lucas makes that trilogy.

One more:

I saw it Saturday night for my birthday in Atlanta. It was a full-house. It's not 'Saving Private Ryan', but I enjoyed it enormously, as did my wife and my best friend, whose African-American father fought in WW2 on the ground in the Pacific Theatre (New Guinea), and judging by the raucous applaud at the end, the overwhelmingly African-American crowd in attendance. See it, enjoy it!
The father of one of my High School friends, was a B-24 pilot in WW2. He flew out of Libya and later Italy. He participated in the Ploesti raids. I imagine that at some point his bomber group was escorted by the 'Red Tails'. I'd like to think that, and I regret that I never asked him if it was so.

I'll be there soon.