Tuskegee Airmen Reunited In Southern Tier

Written By: Asha McKenzie
Tuskegee Airmen Reunited In Southern Tier

BIG FLATS (WENY) -- African American World War II veterans were celebrated this memorial day weekend.
     The Tuskegee Airmen, also known as Red Tails, were the first African American military aviators.
     They were the honored guest at the Return of The Red tails event at the Wings of Eagles Discovery Center in Big Flats.
     "When you look at the accomplishments that we've made as a nation toward equality, said Michael Joseph, Chairman of Return of The Red Tails. "That struggle was born on the shoulders of people of African decent largely. The Tuskegee Airmen played a significant role in that."
     Joseph worked tirelessy to honor the men who fought a foreign war for freedom and prejudice at home.
     This Memorial Day Weekend, work continued as he reunited eight original Tuskegee Airmen.
     "I wasn't sensitive to the issue like a lot of people were to the interracial aspect," said Herbert C. Thorpe, 2nd Lietenant Navigator Bombardier. "I just thought it was like going to another school more or less. Personally, to get through it."
     Still subject to segregation, The Red Tails, named for the red painted tails of their planes, were the first African American pilots to serve in World War II.
     Forming the 332nd fighter group and the 477th Bombardment Group of the U-S Army Air Forces.
     "The 477th bombardment group had one war and that was prejudice here at home," said Audley Coulthurst, who was apart of 477th Bomber Group.
     Audley Coulthurst enlisted after the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941.
     He says the prejudice he experienced on base caused him to never see combat.
     During his time, black officers weren't allowed in the all white officers club.
     "Time brings about change, said Coulthurst. "Always does."
     And that change led to a victorious moments in American history.
     69 years ago the United States successfully bombed Berlin during World War II. Two of the men that completed the mission met for the first time today.
     "When they announced the Tuskegee Airmen were gonna give us support and escort us, there's goes the room again," said William Strapko, one of the white bombers from the 483rd Bomber Group. "You know they're the best."
     The March 24,1945 mission to Berlin linked Bill Strapko and Dr. Roscoe Brown in history.
     The Red Tails led Strapko and other American bombers into enemy territory and came out as heroes.
     That day, the Tuskegee Airmen shot down three enemy jets.
     "We found that theIr were German fighters around and they attack the 433rd and all the other bomb group up like this, over like this," Dr. Roscoe Brown of the 332nd Bomber Group, showed how the attack on berlin happened.
     These commanders never met before but faced death together and survived.
     Strapko and Roscoe relived war memories many have only read about.   
     They shared stories of their lives after the war and accomplishments that came after that celebrated mission.
     "I didn't see him over there but I'm glad he's here," Said Bronw. "And I'm glad that we were there to provide the support that caused him and his colleagues to get home safely."
     Local Tuskegee Airmen, Clarence Dart of Elmira and George Haley of Bath were also remembered at the event this weekend.
     All proceeds from the Return of The Red tails event will go to the Summer Innovation Program at the Wings of Eagles Discovery Center.