African Americans in World War II
Courtesy of the National Archives
The Tuskegee Airmen are perhaps the most famous unit of African American servicemen who fought in World War II, responsible for shattering racist notions that blacks lacked the discipline and intellectual capacity to perform well in complex combat situations. This photograph shows members of the 332nd Fighter Group, called the Red Tails, attending a briefing in Ramitelli, Italy, in March 1945. The 332nd was commanded by Colonel Benjamin O. Davis, Jr., son of the first African American general in the U.S. Army and recipient of the Distinguished Flying Cross for leadership and bravery. Under the command of Colonel Davis, the squadron carried out more than 15,000 missions, shot down 111 enemy aircraft, and destroyed another 150 on the ground, losing only 66 aircraft of their own. More remarkably, the 332nd unit carried out 200 successful escort missions without a single casualty. Their skill and courage made an impression on the military brass. In a highly classified report issued shortly after the war, U.S. General George Marshall declared that black soldiers were just as capable of fighting, and equally entitled to serve their country, as white soldiers. The Airmen shown here are (left to right): Robert W. Williams, (leather cap) William H. Holloman, III, (cloth cap) Ronald W. Reeves, (leather cap) Christopher W. Newman, (flight cap), and Walter M. Downs.