Three Tuskegee Airmen Tell Their Tales, P-51 Fly-By Video

Some of the Tuskegee Airmen from the 332nd Fighter Group were known as Red Tail Angels because the tail of their P-51 Mustang fighter was painted bright red. This one was flown by famous Tuskegee ace pilot Lee Archer and now resides at the Fantasy of Flight Museum in Polk City, FL.

The large open hangar at the Fantasy of Flight aviation attraction was a perfect setting for the three WWII veteran pilots who are all in their 80s. The Tuskegee Airmen were surrounded by vintage aircraft like the P-51 Mustang fighter.

Leo Gray, 87, of Ft. Lauderdale, George Hardy, 86, of Sarasota and Daniel Keel, 89, of Leesburg sat behind a table on an elevated platform looking out at an audience filled with high school students, veterans and members of the community who came to meet them.

All three men are members of the famous African-American air corps that trained in Tuskegee during WWII. Their collective story of battling against the segregated military so they could “go to war” has been told in literature, in documentary films and on Hollywood’s big screen.

Keel talked about one of more memorable moments when he was with the first group of black officers to arrive at a Texas Army base for additional training on bombardiers. He said they were greeted by a white lieutenant colonel who laid down some rules.

Tuskegee Airmen Daniel Keel (L), George Hardy (C), Leo Gray (R) received a standing ovation from the crowd of high school students, veterans and members of the community as they entered for the symposium at Fantasy of Flight.

“One we could not eat in the officers’ mess, two we could not go in the officers’ club, three if we go to the base theater we couldn’t sit in the officers’ section and four, if we go to town, we had to ride in the back of the bus,” Keel said. “I knew I was in trouble as soon as he said that.”

Keel and the other two Tuskegee Airmen are participating in additional public symposiums scheduled Friday and Saturday at Fantasy of Flight at 10:30 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. just off Exit 44 on Interstate 4.

I’ll have more of their stories over the next few weeks. All three men said they continue to do public forums with the hope of invigorating the younger generation to strive for lofty, worthwhile goals.

P-51 Fly-By Video

If you want to see the P-51 Mustang fly – click HERE. The owner of Fantasy of Flight took the fighter plane up for a fly-by to honor his guests. Unfortunately, I was inside doing interviews and missed the demonstration, but we heard it. Leo’s eyes lit up when he heard the distinctive roar of that Merlin engine roar by outside. The Red Tail pilot called its sound as sweet as honey.

The P-51 Mustang on display outside after the fly-by.


Tuskegee Airmen Mark Mission to Berlin Anniversary

TUSKEGEE, Ala. -- Maj. James A. Ellison returns the salute of Mac Ross of Dayton, Ohio, as he passes down the line during review of the first class of Tuskegee cadets; flight line at U.S. Army Air Corps basic and advanced flying school in 1941. Partial three-quarter left front view from low angle of Vultee BT-13 trainer at left. (U.S. Air Force photo)

On March 24, 1945, the Tuskegee Airmen 332nd flew a mission over Berlin shooting down three German jet aircraft and damaging two others. The Tuskegee Airmen were the first African Americans to be trained as WWII military pilots. They received a Presidential Unit Citation for that Berlin mission.

The original Tuskegee Airmen included nearly 1,000 trained pilots and 15,000 ground personnel. Roughly 50 pilots and 200 ground crew are alive today.

Col. Benjamin O. Davis Jr., as commander of the 332nd FG in Italy, with his P-47. (U.S. Air Force photo)

On March 24, 2011, Thursday, Tuskegee Airmen Hiram Mann of Titusville and Leo Gray of Ft. Lauderdale along with other black military pilots will appear at Fantasy of Flight to mark the 66th Anniversary of the 332nd Red Tail Pilots Mission to Berlin.

In addition, several students will receive cash awards and trophies for winning an essay contest about the historic aviators. The essays focused on the virtues such as leadership, advocacy and determination that led to the success of the first African American WWII pilots and crew.

But, perhaps the best prize of all is that the students will get to meet two of their “heroes” in person, Mann and Gray. The essay winners are:

High School:

  • 1st place – Jimmy Liason, Lake Wales Sr. igh, Lake Wales, FL
  • 2nd – David Wilhite, Summerlin Avenue X, Winter Haven, FL

Middle School:

  • 1st place – Dylan Skroskznik, Stewart Middle Magnet, Tampa, FL
  • 2nd- Altorian Salary, Stewart Middle Magnet, Tampa, FL
  • 3rd – Christopher P. Clark, Calvery School, Lutz, FL

Elementary  School:

  • 1st place – Madison Autry, St. Luke’s Lutheran School, Chuluota, FL

Pilots of the 332nd Fighter Group, Tuskegee Airmen, the elite, all-African American unit, pose at Ramitelli, Italy: (from left to right) Lt. Dempsey Morgan, Lt. Carroll Woods, Lt. Robert Nelson Jr., Capt. Andrew D. Turner, and Lt. Clarence Lester.

The awards ceremony is scheduled for 11 a.m. at the Officer’s Club. Fantasy of Flight has a permanent multi-media Tuskegee Airmen exhibit which also includes previously recorded interviews with several of the pioneering airmen. It will serve as a backdrop for essay awards ceremony. The attraction and museum is located, 1400 Broadway Blvd. S.E., Polk City, off I-4 at Exit 44 between Orlando and Tampa.

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