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Freedom Flyers: The Tuskegee Airmen of World War II

Freedom Flyers: The Tuskegee Airmen of World War II by J. Todd Moye. Oxford University Press, 2010, 256 pp.

J. Todd Moye’s Freedom Flyers: The Tuskegee Airmen of World War II is the best book to date about the total experience of the Army Air Forces’ Tuskegee Airmen, the first African-American or black pilots, and their support personnel. Skillfully written by a scholarly author, this book is solidly based not only on extensive primary-source documentation but also on hundreds of oral-history interviews that Moye collected as head of the National Park Service’s Tuskegee Airmen oral-history project. He includes much important information about the missions of the Tuskegee Airmen in combat overseas, which involved members of the 99th Fighter Squadron and the 332d Fighter Group as well as its three other squadrons. Those Tuskegee Airmen flew tactical missions for Twelfth Air Force and then escorted bombers for Fifteenth Air Force on raids deep into enemy territory. But Moye does not neglect the Tuskegee Airmen who never went overseas, including members of the 477th Bombardment Group and its four squadrons. He also addresses the many black Army Air Forces personnel who were not pilots, such as the members of ground crews or bomber crews who trained at bases beyond Tuskegee.

Freedom Flyers is valuable not only for offering a wealth of information about the Tuskegee Airmen groups and squadrons but also for placing them in the broader context of American history. Specifically, it examines the sociological and political forces that pressured the War Department and the Army Air Corps—and later the Army Air Forces—to include blacks among its pilots, for both fighters and bombers. The book begins with the origins of flight training for black men before World War II and carries the story through and beyond the war to the racial integration of the Air Force, noting the irony that a service which resisted the inclusion of blacks among its aviators and officers later led the way in integrating the armed forces and contributing eventually to the racial integration of American society. Moye is scrupulously objective, bringing out absurd and blatant instances of white racism, such as that which provoked the Freeman Field Mutiny in 1945. Furthermore, he points to instances in which white officers such as Col Noel Parrish, commander of Tuskegee Army Air Field, struggled against the traditions around them to give black Airmen and their support personnel more opportunities in the Army Air Forces.

This study, however, is primarily about black men and their individual experiences. They struggled against many odds, striving to attain success both for themselves and for their white countrymen—not to mention their efforts to defend their country, despite the fact that it continued to discriminate against them. Moye clearly brings out the Tuskegee Airmen’s place in American history and even corrects some of the myths that appeared in previous books on the subject.

Freedom Flyers is not perfect. It contains a few historical errors, but they are few and far between. The book would have been even better if its author had relied a little more on the documentary resources of the Air Force Historical Research Agency, which maintains the original records of the Tuskegee Airmen units, written by the Tuskegee Airmen themselves during the war. They are at least as reliable as the memories of original Tuskegee Airmen with whom he conducted so many interviews.

"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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