The term "Tuskegee Airmen" is used to describe four all-black World War II squadrons—the Ninety-ninth, 100th, 301th, and 302d.
Nine hundred twenty-six pilots earned their pilot's wings under the Army Air Force Aviation Cadet program, which began in 1941 at Tuskegee Institute in Alabama. Although the program's first students graduated three months after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, the army refused to deploy the Tuskegee pilots outside the United States until 1943, when the 99th was shipped to North Africa.
Racial hostility in the military almost led to its recall, but the squadron was saved thanks to the testimony of its commander, Benjamin O. Davis Jr., who later became the first African-American U.S. Air Force general. In 1944, the Ninety-ninth merged with the other three black squadrons to form the 332d Fighter Group. As a bomber escort group on 200 bomber missions, the 332d won fame for not losing a single U.S. bomber to enemy aircraft. In 1,578 combat missions, the Tuskegee Airmen shot down 111 enemy planes, destroyed 150 others on the ground, and sank a German destroyer. Tuskegee Airmen saw action in Africa, Sicily, Italy, France, Germany, and the Balkans; 66 were killed in action.
Members of the 332d won more than 100 Distinguished Flying Crosses, and the group won three Distinguished Unit Citations.
From Encyclopedia of African-American Heritage, Second Edition.