By Tech. Sgt. Juan Torres
The term ‘Tuskegee Airmen’ holds a revered place in Air Force history that continues today at the 332nd Air Expeditionary Wing at Joint Base Balad, Iraq.
Friday, one of those legendary Airmen visited Little Rock Air Force Base to share his story. Retired Col. George Boyd, a 28-year combat veteran who served in World War II, the Korean War and Vietnam, told his story to an eager Team Little Rock audience at the 62nd Airlift Squadron auditorium. His presentation, titled ‘Keeping our Dreams Alive,’ touched on his involvement with the Tuskegee Airmen, the Civil Air Patrol and being awarded the Congressional Gold Medal by President George W Bush.
“In class 45-G, I was one of the first to be washed out. Needless to say I was devastated. I realized that meeting my military career dreams of military service was to be a difficult, serious business,” he said. “I also suspected I’d been up against a contrived quota system, having nothing to do with anything except the color of my skin.”
While the rest of the Army Air corps was increasing entire pilot and aircrew strength for the impending invasion of Japan, the Tuskegee program was designed initially for limited replacement of 332nd Fighter Group in the European theater. The term Tuskegee Airmen refers to the people who were part of the Army Air Corps experimental program to train African Americans to fly and maintain combat aircraft.
The Tuskegee Airmen included pilots, navigators, bombardiers, maintenance and support staff, instructors, and all the personnel who kept the planes in the air.
Following training, Colonel Boyd was assigned to 100th fighter squadron with the 332nd fighter group, at Lockbourne Army Airfield, Ohio. After serving through World War II, the Korean War and Vietnam, he retired from the Air Force as a major. He went on to join the Kansas Civil Air Patrol where he earned the rank of colonel.
In 2007, Colonel Boyd and the Tuskegee Airmen received the Congressional Gold Medal, recognizing the group for its combat record in World War II and for fighting prejudice at home.
Colonel Boyd summed up the changes in racial equality with a pair of experiences he had at Mississippi. In 1944, while in basic military training at Keesler Field, he was responsible for protecting a beach he couldn’t walk on.
“I reported to my first sergeant who told me to remember my oath to defend the entire U.S. and not concern myself that we were assigned to defend a section of the Biloxi beach that we as black persons we were not allowed to walk or swim on. He said when we won the war, most of these problems would change.”
When he returned to Keesler AFB in 2000, he was informed a military exercise was in progress and there was no billeting on base. He ended up in a hotel in Biloxi.
“I gazed out the windows and I asked Mattie to share this experience and look out the window at the Gulf of Mexico and the beach we were ordered to defend but could not walk on in 1944. Later on, Mattie and I took a stroll on the beach front area.”
“That was an epiphany to me, it said ‘this is a great country, things change.’”