Historical society preserves legend, memory

By: Bryan Trude, Feature Editor

There is a group of dedicated men and women who meet monthly at on campus who, to an outsider, looks like just a group of old friends. Laughter fills the seminar room at the Professional Training Center as jokes are exchanged and stories are shared.

Members of the Charles B. Hall chapter of the Tuskegee Airmen, Inc. (TAI) however, are much more than just a club of aficionados.

They are dedicated to the preservation of the history and the memory of an iconic group in U.S. military aviation history, the “Red Tailed Angels,” the original Tuskegee Airmen.

According to Mahlon Smith, vice president, the modern TAI, was founded in 1975 as a “charitable and educational group to preserve the accomplishments and lessons of not only the Tuskegee Airmen, but all black pioneers in aviation,” and to “inspire young men and women, particularly minorities, to pursue futures in aviation and aerospace.”

The original Tuskegee Airmen was founded in 1940, according to Smith, as a result of the pressures and demands of World War II. With a little help from acts by Congress, the group was able to force the Army Air Corps to establish an African-American combat unit. They drew their name from the Tuskegee Institute in Tuskegee, Ala., where they trained.

The nickname “Red-Tailed Angels” came the distinctive red color the Tuskegee Airmen painted the tails of their aircraft. The pilots soon gained a reputation as bomber escorts during World War II. According to TAI, the original airmen were a major factor in President Harry Truman’s decision to desegregate the armed forces in 1948.

According to Chapter President Augustus Mays, 450 original Tuskegee Airmen were trained between 1941 and 1945, with only about 100 surviving today.

“Every day, we lose a few more of these veterans,” Smith said. “With every veteran we lose. We lose a story.”

The Charles B. Hall chapter’s namesake, according to Mays, was the first black fighter pilot to shoot down an enemy plane, and then, upon landing, Hall’s reward was “an ice-cold Coke.”

The chapter provides scholarship money to deserving local high school graduates, with TAI’s 52 chapters nationwide awarding over $90,000 in scholarships annually. The chapter also attends and provides services to events in the area, including their flag ceremony performance at Global Oklahoma, Oct. 2, 2010.

The Charles B. Hall chapter meets on the fourth Tuesday of every month in the Professional Training Center, room 114. Membership is open to anyone. According to Mays, members are a mixture of both military veterans and civilians of all ages, races and backgrounds, who want to serve the organization’s mission and preserve the history of the Airmen.

Individuals interested in joining the chapter can download the membership form from their Web site at http://www.tuskegeeairmanok.com. For more information, contact Mahlon Smith at smitty58@swbell.net

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