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The Tuskegee Airmen, an Illustrated History: 1939-1949

The Tuskegee Airmen, an Illustrated History: 1939–1949 by Joseph Caver, Jerome Ennels, and Daniel Haulman. NewSouth Books, 2011, 232 pp.

Since the end of World War II, many books, articles, exhibits, and films have told the story of the Tuskegee Airmen, the only African-American military pilots of that war. Thus, one might question why we need another book on this almost iconic group, who not only fought the Luftwaffe over North Africa and Europe—accruing a combat record at least equal to that of other US Army Air Forces (AAF) combat units with similar time in combat—but also battled prejudice and misconceptions about their abilities in the United States. Furthermore, this work is not a “scholarly” or “academic” treatment of the Tuskegee Airmen that examines a controversial issue, such as the “never lost a bomber” myth, or sets out to prove some thesis. Yet, it fills a significant void in the existing literature on these men by offering several hundred captioned photographs depicting African-American pilots before 1941 through the postwar status of the Tuskegee Airmen to about 2010.

The authors are all professional historians who, at one time, worked together at the Air Force Historical Research Agency (AFHRA) at Maxwell Air Force Base (AFB), Alabama (as another Air Force historian, I met them on many occasions). Joe Caver began his career as an archivist for the Alabama Department of Archives and History, worked at the AFHRA for 30 years before his retirement in 2011, and now teaches history at Alabama State University in Montgomery. Jerome Ennels worked at the AFHRA from 1974 to 1977, served as the senior historian for Air University from 1977 to 2006, worked as an adjunct history instructor for Troy University from 2000 to 2005, and returned to the AFHRA in 2006. He has also coauthored a history of Maxwell AFB. Since 1982 Dan Haulman has been an Air Force historian at the AFHRA where he is chief of the Organizational History Division; he has taught history part-time at several Alabama universities and has written numerous books, pamphlets, and articles on various facets of Air Force history. Dr. Haulman is probably the foremost Air Force historian on the Tuskegee Airmen, regularly serving as a consultant regarding their history.

The book includes nine chapters divided into three parts; a chronology of key events; and some interesting statistics about the Tuskegee Airmen. Each chapter has a short introduction, followed by numerous photographs that document the history of African-American aviation before World War II, the prewar training and subsequent combat operations of the Tuskegee Airmen, and highlights of their activities after the war. Mr. Caver and Mr. Ennels selected most of the photographs and wrote the captions for them, and Mr. Ennels wrote introductions for half of the chapters. Dr. Haulman selected a handful of photographs and wrote their captions, wrote introductions for the remaining chapters, wrote the chronology, and compiled the statistics that appear near the beginning of the book.

Though not a scholarly treatise, like many of the previous works on the Tuskegee Airmen, it is indeed a valuable addition to the literature. The introduction provides an excellent summary of the achievements of African-American aviators in the interwar period, proving that they had the intelligence to fly airplanes, despite biased popular beliefs and “scientific” proof to the contrary. Toward the end of the book, Dr. Haulman’s extensive chronology details the step-by-step process that resulted in creation of the 99th Pursuit (later Fighter) Squadron (FS) and the AAF flying school at Tuskegee AAF Field for the first African-American combat pilots. The chronology then offers a detailed look at the initial and advanced training for these pilots as well as combat operations of the 99 FS, 332nd Fighter Group (FG), and the follow-on 100, 301, and 302 FSs during the war. The book also covers the lesser-known all-African-American 477th Bombardment (later Composite) Group, formed toward the end of the war but too late to see combat.

The heart and most valuable feature of The Tuskegee Airmen, however, are the several hundred photographs, accompanied by detailed captions, that capture these aviators through all phases of their existence. They give the reader a look into the Airmen’s initial and advanced training; combat operations from bases in North Africa, Sicily, and Italy; and some insight into their postwar activities. The photographs make the Tuskegee Airmen come alive as “real” people—not just words in a book—showing every aspect of their on- and off-duty military lives. From these images, readers discover that the Airmen were just like the men who served in any other aerial combat unit in World War II, with the exception of their darker skin.

Furthermore, we realize that the Tuskegee Airmen included not only the pilots who flew the aircraft but also the enlisted personnel who supported them. The photographs show the maintainers who fixed the aircraft, the armorers who loaded the ammunition for the machine guns, and the other support people who indirectly and directly contributed to the success of the 332 FG and its constituent squadrons. Since the pilots were African-Americans, their entire administrative and combat support units had to consist of African-Americans as well. Consequently, these photographs tellingly reveal the depth of the segregation policies of the AAF and, by extension, the other military services in the 1940s.

In summary, The Tuskegee Airmen adds an important facet to the already extensive library about these individuals. In the typical scholarly study, readers might find a handful of photographs (if they see any at all) scattered throughout or segregated into one or two sections. This book, however, displays hundreds of them—with captions—that collectively bring to life the combat operations of the Tuskegee Airmen and provide glimpses of their training, combat support activities, and social life. The extensive collection of images and detailed chronology make this book a welcome and needed addition to the growing number of works on the Tuskegee Airmen. Scholars, military aviation enthusiasts, and general readers alike would do well to add The Tuskegee Airmen to their libraries.

Dr. Robert B. Kane

Maxwell AFB, Alabama

"The views expressed are those of the author(s) and do not reflect the official policy or position of the US government or the Department of Defense."

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