WWII Army Air Corp
Television writer, producer and activist Norman Lear—enshrined in American popular culture for his string of television hits including “All in the Family,” “Maude,” “Sanford and Son,” “Good Times,” and “The Jeffersons,” has fond memories of the Tuskegee Airmen. As a World War II radio operator and gunner aboard the B-17 bombers, Lear says he always felt good when the Tuskegee Airmen were flying escort.
Q: How did you first come to know the Tuskegee Airmen?
A: We didn’t know anything about Tuskegee Airmen, but we saw the red on the end the tail. I flew on bombers and they flew our escorts. There was another group of P-38 Mustangs and we never knew who was going to escort us out of enemy territory, but when we saw the P-51’s we were particularly pleased. We saw them on our wing often, and I knew, when I could make them out, that the guys we were seeing were black.
The P-38 was the most distinctive good looking plane in the air. And I remember thinking that despite the fact it was wonderful to see the P-38, it was the P-51’s I was looking for because of the guys flying it.
They flew close and often over the target. They stayed with us. We felt safer. When I saw the P-51s, I felt safer because those guys flew very close to us on our wing, and they didn’t have to fly over the target with us, but they did. I felt more protection, especially when there were enemy fighters in the air.
I might have learned they were an all black squadron after the war. Don’t know when I really understood they were all black. We didn’t really see black GI’s that often. I don’t remember the actual thought, oh my god, this is a black squadron. I just know my crew, when we saw the P-51s coming our way to join us, we all felt better.
Did you ever meet up with any Airmen after the war?
In Atlanta, about eight years ago. I can’t remember the organization that hired me to talk. There were some Tuskegee Airmen in the audience. Two guys in wheelchairs. I don’t know if it was age or war related. We just talked for a few minutes. It was wonderful.
Any Additional Thoughts?:
There used to be this great act, the Nicholas brothers, they did giant leaps off high stage pieces to the floor, landing in that split thing. They were amazing. Amazing. And the Tuskegee guys were the Nicholas Brothers in the air. They had that same spirit. I don’t know on how many occasions I could see the face of the airmen, they were so close. The way they came in, and peeled off , they just flew like the Nicholas Brothers danced.
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