The movie “Red Tails” opens tomorrow, telling the story of the historic all-black unit of World War Two fighter pilots called the Tuskegee Airmen.
A half-dozen Nebraska men flew with that remarkable unit.
Historian Michael Kates says their heroics in aerial combat were amazing, flying single-man fighters to escort and protect large bombers.
“They were noted for never losing a bomber plane and their mission was a very high-risk mission. For example, Luther Smith flew 133 combat missions, something that is unheard of, and he shot down a number of planes,” Kates says. “It’s stories like that that get lost in history and I think it’s good for us to go back and really talk about what these men did.”
The unit flew some 15,000 missions over Europe, North Africa and Sicily. They shot shot down 111 enemy planes and destroyed nearly 300 on the ground.
Kates says the men in the group were also noted for what they did -after- the war.
“A lot of these men, what you’ll find out with the Tuskegee Airmen, they went on to become community leaders, they went on to become national leaders and were really generous with their time and made sure their communities were taken care of,” Kates says. “You had some really quality men that came out of the Tuskegee Airmen.”
Of the six Nebraskans who were part of the Tuskegee Airmen, five were from Omaha: Alfonza Davis, Charles Lane, Jr., Harrison “Harry” Tull, Robert Holts and Ralph Orduna. The unit also included Paul Adams of Lincoln.
For more information on the Nebraskans who served in the unit, see: PDF Airmen
Kates is executive director of the Fort Des Moines Museum in Des Moines, Iowa, which has an exhibit featuring the men who served in the unit.