With George Lucas’ “Red Tails” soaring at the box office, the National WWII Museum announces its acquisition and restoration of a P-51 Mustang, the aircraft depicted in Hollywood’s drama about the courageous fighter pilots known as the Tuskegee Airmen.
They were the first African-American aviators in the United States military. They comprised the United States Army Air Force 99th Fighter Squadron and 332nd Fighter Group and were trained at Tuskegee Army Air Field in Alabama.
The museum’s P-51 D, an aircraft replete with authentic “Red Tail” markings, will hang in the new US Freedom Pavilion: The Boeing Center. The 96 ft. tall structure, built to house the institution’s spectacular collection of macro artifacts, opens on the Museum’s New Orleans campus Nov. 11, Veterans Day, this year.
“The P-51 with ‘Red Tail’ markings should be a symbol of pride for all Americans,” said Wendell Pierce, actor and spokesperson for the museum’s initiative to restore the plane. “But it is of special importance to Black Americans as it embodies the patriotism of these pilots, who did, indeed, prove that courage has no color. I am proud to help in the museum’s efforts to honor all African-Americans who fought for their country during WWII.”
Pierce’s father, Amos Pierce, was drafted into the U.S. Army in 1943 and was assigned to the famous 24th Infantry Division – the African American “Buffalo Soldiers” attached to the U.S. Marines that took Saipan from the Japanese in 1944.
With Black History Month approaching, the Museum is making a special effort to remind Americans of African-Americans’ contributions in WWII with a series of programs. These include an opportunity for children to build their own P-51 model plane as well as a lunchtime lecture about African-American veterans and their struggle for civil rights. Other highlights include:
• A display depicting the exploits of the Tuskegee Airmen as well as those of drivers for the “Red Ball Express,” which at its peak delivered over 12,000 tons of vital supplies per day to Allied forces rapidly advancing across France. The display opens January 20 and will be exhibited throughout the month of February.
• A free Electronic Field Trip for grades 7-12 called Fighting for a Double Victory: African Americans in WWII. Students will meet Pearl Harbor hero Dorie Miller, the Montford Point Marines, and the Tuskegee Airmen, learning of the struggle for racial equality in war factories and in the barracks and tracing the historic path from segregation to integration in the military and beyond.
Though restricted by segregationist practices and US military policies throughout WWII, black servicemen and women performed vital efforts during the conflict. Their successes helped to spur integration of the Armed Forces in 1948. Still, widespread recognition of the contributions of African Americans did not come quickly. Pierce’s father Amos, for example, did not receive his medals for combat bravery until 2009, after assistance from the Museum.
“African-Americans’ experience in World War II was a fight for two victories,” said Museum President and CEO Dr. Gordon H. “Nick” Mueller. “The first was to defeat the Axis. The second was for equal rights. The Museum feels it must always convey the story of this double victory so that young generations know and understand the challenges these Americans faced. Our P-51 will serve as a touchstone for that effort.”
The family of Museum board member Todd Ricketts, co-owner of the Chicago Cubs, has committed to donate $500,000 to fund the P-51’s restoration, which is expected to be finished in early 2013. The museum needs to raise another half-million dollars to complete the project.
“The P-51 is the iconic aircraft of World War II and the Museum would not be complete without one,” Ricketts said. “But beyond that, it is also important to recognize and honor the Tuskegee Airmen who furthered the American war effort, and civil rights for all Americans, by doing what they saw as their patriotic duty.”
“We can’t thank Mr. Ricketts and his family enough for their generosity,” Mueller says. “Because of this gift, museum-goers will be able to enter the US Freedom Pavilion: The Boeing Center and see a real P-51, not one generated by computer graphics. It’s history made real.”