Tuskegee Airmen Chapter shares history.
By Rachel Cooper
Two officers from the San Antonio Chapter of the Tuskegee Airmen Inc. and an original airman spoke to an audience of about 100 students, faculty and staff Feb.15 at Palo Alto College.
Original Tuskegee Airman James Bynum took photos and answered questions after a speech about the emergence of African-American pilots.
The Tuskegee, Ala., Air Force base was where 996 pilots and 13,000 support personnel trained; about 10 percent of those individuals remain today, Chapter President Ralph “Rick” Sinkfield said.
“I did not fly,” Bynum said. He was an administrative personnel and worked on the ground.
“I’m not a pilot, but I’ve been to most places that the pilots have,” he said.
He was in the Army in 1941 before Pearl Harbor.
“I was with the war and the invasions in France and in Germany when they fired the last shell there, ending the war,” he said.
During World War II, he worked for 2nd Lt. Daniel “Chappie” James.
James became the first African-American four-star general, Bynum said.
James was known for his speeches about Americanism and patriotism, chapter corresponding secretary Dr. Carolin L. Sinkfield said.
After serving in the Air Force for 30 years, Bynum went to St. Philip’s College and got a degree in real estate after he retired in 1970.
People were becoming intrigued with the idea of being able to fly, Rick Sinkfield said.
The first known African-American military pilot was Eugene Bullard, who joined the French military in the early 1900’s, Rick Sinkfield said.
Many African-Americans were trained in France because the United States would not train them and there was no military with aviation in the United States.
They called him the “black angel of death,” because of how good he was, Rick Sinkfield said.
Bessie Coleman wanted to fly, so she saved up her pennies and went to France, Rick Sinkfield said.
She became the first African-American to get a pilot’s license in France.
She trained in France as a barnstormer, pilots who do acrobatics in the air, stand on wings and make the plane do loops and curls.
“It’s like a circus in the air,” he said.
At the barnstormer events in the U.S., African-Americans and whites sat on separate sides.
Coleman said she would not perform unless they could enter through the same gate and sit on the same side.
“She was really a civil rights pioneer as well as a barnstormer,” Rick Sinkfield said.
Willa Brown Chappell decided she not only wanted to fly but also teach to fly.
Her hero was Coleman.
Chappell and her husband created the Coffey School of Aviation where many Tuskegee airmen got their start.
They opened the doors in the 1930s to African-Americans who wanted to fly.
Alfred “Chief” Anderson was trained at the Coffey Aviation school and one of the first instructors at Tuskegee Army airfield.
One day he was walking around and saw Eleanor Roosevelt, the first lady of the United States.
Roosevelt said, “Why are we spending all this money here at Tuskegee, and we’re not allowing these people to fly in the military.”
She jumped in the plane with Anderson and Secret Service went “berserk,” Rick Sinkfield said.
They flew around and Roosevelt said, “Well, what’s the problem, these guys can fly.”
She complained to the president and things got rolling, Rick Sinkfield said.
There weren’t many trained pilots so the Civilian Pilot Training Act of 1939 created a reserve of civilian pilots in case of war, Carolin Sinkfield said.
The Selective Training and Service Act of 1940 said that all the males “black or white would have to register at the post office,” and were subject to the draft, she said.
They showed the documentary “Double Victory” by George Lucas about the Tuskegee Airmen.
The documentary is called “Double Victory” because it was a “victory at home and victory oversees,” she said.
Gen. Benjamin O. Davis Jr. graduated in 1936 from West Point in New York at the top of his class, Carolin Sinkfield said.
He was silenced and ate alone and nobody sat with him.
He was the first African-American general and led the 99th squadron.
“The 332nd fighter group includes the 99th, which we currently have a 99th flying training squadron right here in San Antonio at Randolph Air Force Base that we are chapter partnered with,” Carolin Sinkfield said.
There is a museum at Randolph Air Force Base that features the history of the Tuskegee airmen.
She said they flew more than 1,500 missions.
The 332nd fighter squadron was called the ”red tailed angels” because the tail of the aircraft was painted red and easily detected.
When the U.S bomber planes saw them, they knew they were in good hands, she said.
Tuskegee airman seldom lost a bomber and Gen. Benjamin O. Davis told them to “never leave the bombers.”
The Tuskegee airmen of the 477th bombardment group never saw action in World War II.
There were 100 members and they protested segregation on base.
The men, all officers, went into the officers club and were arrested.
The arrest was called the “freedman field mutiny,” she said.
“There was fair evaluation of African-American contributions to the military,” she said.
After World War II, because of the “demonstrations, newspapers, people legislating, people going to Congress, and speaking up on the part of the Tuskegee airmen,” the U.S Air Force became fully integrated in 1948, she said.
The San Antonio and Dallas chapters are the only ones in the central region, Carolin Sinkfield said.
Anyone can join, military, dependent or civilian.
To learn more, visit http://www.sactai.com/index.html.