You don’t have to be history buff to appreciate Red Tails

Ernie Sochin is a Colonel and Life Member of the Commemorative Air Force, an organization dedicated to the preservation of WW II airplanes. This is one of the planes, a P-51, the type used by the Red Tails and one of the most beautiful planes ever to fly.

Anyone who knows me knows that I am a WW II buff, having read perhaps thousands of books on the subject, and even having a room in my house called the “War Room” where I keep all my WW II stuff and spend hours watching the History and Military channels.

In our travels, my traveling companion and I have visited virtually every battleground and historical location having to do with the war. My companion spent most of her time waiting in the car or cafeteria while I filled my mind and camera with everything that I could observe.

We have the same problem when we go to the movies. She claims that we always see my kind of movies while I call attention to all the “chick flicks” that I sat through waiting for the end.

So of course when Red Tails, a movie featuring Cuba Gooding Jr. and about a famous WW II fighter squadron piloted by only black pilots, came to town I immediately began stomping my feet and demanding that we see it before it left the theater. My sweet and accommodating companion finally agreed after I swore to go to at least two more “chick flicks” in the future, She also told me that as soon as she got bored watching Red Tails, she would leave and go shopping. I agreed.

By the time this great movie was over, she had become overwhelmed with emotion and on the way out of the theater began giving me marching orders. She demanded that I immediately begin contacting black leaders in our community to insist that arrangements be made for every African American child in our area to watch this inspiring film, so much so that two lovely black women behind us, one a court magistrate, stopped us to see what had made us so emotional about this movie.

To backtrack a bit, I am frequently asked to speak at various schools in the area and on one visit began to tell the class of mostly African Americans that in my day they would not have been allowed in my classes because they were black and thought to be unequal to us white folks.

They seemed surprised and turned to their black teacher for confirmation. She confirmed. Then I told them of my first trip to Florida when I stopped at a rest stop on the Florida Turnpike and went to the two water fountains there — one marked “white,” the other “colored.” They couldn’t believe this either and once again turned to their teacher for confirmation. I, of course, drank from the “colored” fountain. I was a rebel even back then.

Back to the movie: It showed in some detail how during WW II, when we were in desperate need for pilots to protect our vulnerable bombers from the enemy, our military thought that “coloreds” were not intelligent enough and believed a medical study stating that “Negroes are incapable of handling complex machinery.”

It took a lot of talking from a Colonel A.J. Bullard and Lt. Col. Benjamin Davis Jr. to convince the Army Air Force that they could do the job. Once given the chance they performed magnificently and eventually were welcomed into the ranks of our proud military and became known as “The Tuskegee Airmen” (for the base in Alabama where they received their flight training.) The unit received 850 medals over the course of the war as well as the Distinguished Unit Citation. Sixty-six pilots were killed in action out of 450. They destroyed 111 German airplanes in the air and another 150 on the ground as well as numerous other targets such as a destroyer at sea.

Now do you see why this film is so important? Don’t miss it!

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