Regarding Courtland Milloy’s Jan. 30 column, “ ‘Red Tails’: A disservice to the airmen”:
I am a 91-year-old Tuskegee Airman who was at Ramitelli, Italy, during the episode covered in the George Lucas film “Red Tails.” Mr. Lucas got it right. Whoever disagrees was not there.
Mr. Milloy complained the film was “little more than a black comedy about guys who clown and connive their way through World War II.” He missed the message. We were just like any other human beings, as was depicted, not high-ranking military officers practicing protocol. Once we were out on the high seas, we were together as an organization, and any protocol, outside of ceremonial parades, was left behind.
There were flight leaders, wingmen, armament and fuel providers, specialists and crew chiefs. I was a crew chief, and my pilot and I planned to split a fifth of Old Overholt when he returned from his transitional flight in the old, used squadron P-47. But he never made it back to fly my new P-47D. That was a sad day, but I got another pilot, who became my best buddy, and moved on. That was combat.
We fought to prove that we could fly and maintain complicated Air Force planes as well as anybody else. Those quick turns film-goers saw with the P-51 were real; we really could fly them that way.
Though a West Pointer and undoubtedly the leader, Gen. Benjamin O. Davis Jr. was also one of the guys. His humanity came through as he kept us from crashing into the Officers Club at Selfridge Field, Mich., cautioned us about race problems and our priorities, and stopped us from shooting up the little town where we were stationed just before we left Virginia Beach for overseas. We’d find him playing poker with his buddies during down time. I wished him a safe return as I squeezed him into my tiny P-39 at times. He was human.
The Lucas film was a small but true episode in the life of the Red Tails at Capodichino, Ramitelli and Cattolica, Italy. We all were young. Everything in the film did happen in some way. Give Mr. Lucas and the original Tuskegee Airmen he interviewed credit for that.
Henry L. Moore, Philadelphia
The writer was a crew chief for the 332nd Fighter Group in Italy from 1943 to 1945.
When I was growing up in Alabama during the 1950s, my father told me that the Tuskegee Airmen fought for equality in the military and in civilian life. But they had fears just like all other men fighting a war. Gen. Benjamin O. Davis Jr., like Gen. George S. Patton, understood this, and who knows what he tolerated out of the watchful eye of the white military establishment.
Courtland Milloy complained that the airmen in “Red Tails” weren’t shown to be as “distinctive” as the servicemen in the film “Saving Private Ryan” and the TV miniseries “Band of Brothers” and “The Pacific.” Maybe Mr. Milloy needs to take another look because what I saw was very different from what he saw.
I am just glad a movie was made about a group of brave African American men who fought in World War II. The schools in Alabama didn’t teach about them; it was left to my father, uncle and other veterans of the war to tell us their story.
Caleb R. Hertz, Fort Washington
There are a couple points that should be added to Courtland Milloy’s criticism of the Tuskegee Airmen movie. Those who criticize such work must face the fact that since the early days of the film industry, black people have participated in these kinds of movies for many reasons. Topping the list are economic survival, professional ambition and the belief that some recognition, even if inaccurate, is better than none.
The film also points out the old “lack of competence” argument used against the airmen and suggests the counterargument that blacks have the right to be just as mediocre, flawed and human as anyone else.
Whatever merit that rationale may have, it seems that “Red Tails” took it too seriously. George Lucas and his filmmakers draw attention to these courageous men and the tremendous obstacles they faced, but in their effort to make the airmen more “human,” they created images that were often painfully one-dimensional in the view of those of us who hold the airmen in high esteem.
Both in training and in the air, the real airmen soared high over mediocrity, endured daily the humiliations of a country that refused to fully respect them and paid back their treatment with excellence, courage and blood.
David L. Evans, Arlington