“We were really pioneers. We were the Jackie Robinson of the Air Force.”
Roscoe Brown, Jr., telling his friend Javier Henriquez about being a Tuskegee Airman.
Recorded in ,
Click here for the transcript.
RB: You fly 68 combat missions, average mission was over 4 hours, you got shot at as I did at every European capitol except London and Paris, I did high altitude escort of bombers, I did strapping and low support missions, I dropped bombs, I did escort of B38 reconnaissance planes, so I had a lot of different kinds of missions. You recall, the Tuskegee Airmen are known because, of all the missions we flew, were the only fighter group in history never to have lost a bomber that we were escorting to enemy fighters. That's a record that no one achieved in the war except the Tuskegee Airmen. And this is particularly interesting because the prevailing wisdom in 1940 and the 30s was that blacks didn't have the intelligence, coordination, the ability, the courage to fly airplanes. So we were really pioneers. We were the Jackie Robinson of the Air Force. Humorous wise, which is not exactly so humorous, at one time as we were coming back from a mission the weather was bad and the bombers that we were escorting couldn't make their home base. So the bomber, some of the bombers landed on our base. All the bombers were white because we were the only blacks in the Air Force. And these white guys said, well, we gotta stay here two days, three days with these black guys and most of em were from the south but most of em accepted this and were eating and drinking with us but there was one guy who says he wasn't gonna spend any time with any niggers. So he decided he's gonna stay in his plane. Well the covering on a B-17 is about as thin as a piece of paper. It's made out of aluminum. And when the temperature, as it did over in Italy, got down around 5 degrees he was freezing his buttons off and finally he knocked on the door and said May I come in, may I come in and we let him come in. And he stayed with us despite his racial attitudes. But when they left the base they were saying oh we were good people and they were gonna work for democracy and so on when they got back home. But then our censor who, who had to censor all the letters, found a letter that one man had written to his wife: Dear whatever her name was, I love you very much but I hope you'll take me back because here on this Christmas Eve I'm living in nigger barracks, sleeping in nigger beds, eating nigger food. I hope you take me back. Now of course that letter didn't get anywhere but that's indicative of how deep some of the racial attitudes were.