The movie begins with the group’s missions targeting German trains, trucks, and other ground-based objects from hand-me-down Curtiss P–40 Warhawks. Even while the pilots’ skills steadily progressed, politicians stateside held the group back. Led by Lt. Col. Benjamin O. Davis Jr., the Black pilots eventually earned the respect of others in the military because of their superior air support for heavy bombers.
After they were assigned to fly the faster and more capable North American P–51 Mustangs in 1944, crew members marked the aircraft noses and tails in red and became known as the Red Tails, hence the movie’s name. During the war they also flew the Bell P–39 Airacobra, the Republic P–47 Thunderbolt, and other aircraft—though they are best known for flying the distinctively painted Mustangs.
Tuskegee Airmen historian Rob Brewington’s research indicates that the fighter squadron pilots first took to the sky in Boeing Stearman PT–13 and PT–17 biplane trainers, or a Fairchild PT–19 monoplane, during initial training at Moton Field in Alabama.
The Tuskegee Airmen flew more than 15,000 sorties in two years of combat and earned 150 Distinguished Flying Crosses. Decades later they received a Congressional Gold Medal from President George W. Bush in 2007.
The Maryland group’s inaugural event brought dozens of veterans together on a rainy afternoon to share an inspirational film about the World War II pilots and crew of the 332nd Fighter Group who faced two battles at the same time—fighting the war in Europe and confronting racism in the United States.
U.S. Army veterans and biological science specialists Gregory McCullers and his wife, Dr. Shelia Russell McCullers, who met during the Persian Gulf War, chatted before the movie with retired U.S. Army Sgt. 1st Class Andrew Smalley, who served during the Vietnam War.
Paul Flemings, a medical supplies specialist at the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases at Fort Detrick, is vice president of the newly formed chapter. He said the group is “passionate about helping veterans” find their way through homelessness, financial struggles, post-traumatic stress disorder, and other issues.
Flemings stressed that the group is inclusive and opens its arms to all veterans, not just Black veterans. “There are a lot of things fellow veterans can do to help educate others about some of the services that are available to them. We just need to get the word out.”