During World War II, African Americans in many U.S. states still were subject to the Jim Crow laws. The American military was racially segregated, as was much of the federal government. The Tuskegee Airmen were subject to discrimination, both within and outside the army. Despite these adversities, they trained at Tuskegee Army Air field in Macon County, Alabama, and flew with distinction. Primarily made up of African Americans, there were also five Tuskegee Airmen that were of Haitian descent.
Soon after high school graduation, Lieutenant Colonel Gray joined the Army Air Corps and began his aviation cadet training in 1943. Little more than a year later he graduated from the Tuskegee Army Air field as a Second Lieutenant, single engine pilot. While stationed in Italy as a fighter pilot, Gray flew 15 combat missions in P-51 Mustangs, for a total of 750 hours flying time. He left active duty in 1946, but remained in the USAF Reserves until 1984. During his 41 years of military service, Lieutenant Colonel Gray earned an Air Medal with one Oak Leaf cluster, and a Presidential Unit Citation. Lt. Col. Leo R. Gray passed away September 23, 2016.
Tuskegee Airmen Combat Records:
The Tuskegee Airmen compiled the following combat records:
One Destroyer damaged beyond repair.- It was not sunk as had been previously reported. The USAF reports that 27 bombers were lost while being escorted by the Red Tail pilots.They flew a total of 179 bomber escort missions.
- 112 Aircraft destroyed in aerial combat. Red Tail losses were 12. That indicates a kill ratio of about 10 to 1. Additional Aircraft (about 150) were destroyed by the Red Tails on the ground.
- 148 aircraft probably destroyed or damaged. Note: Not much is said about "Aircraft probably destroyed or damaged".
- 15,533 sorties
- 312 missions
- 66 killed in action
- 80 killed overseas
- 84 killed in training and non-combat missions
- 95 Distinguished Flying Crosses awarded
- 355 pilots sent overseas.
In all, 996 pilots were trained in Tuskegee from 1941 to 1946, 355 were deployed overseas, 150 Airmen lost their lives in accidents or combat and 32 fell into captivity as prisoners of war.
Tuskegee Airmen Accomplishments:
The Tuskegee Airmen were credited by higher commands with the following accomplishments:
- 112 German aircraft destroyed in the air, another 150 on the ground
- 950 rail-cars, trucks and other motor vehicles destroyed
- One destroyer damaged beyond repair
- A good record of protecting U.S. bombers, losing 27 on 179 escort missions.
Awarded for valor and performance included:
- Three Distinguished Unit Citations
- 99th Pursuit Squadron: 30 May–11 June 1943 for the capture of Pantelleria, Italy
- 99th Fighter Squadron: 12–14 May 1944: for successful air strikes against Monte Cassino, Italy
- 332nd Fighter Group: 24 March 1945: for the longest bomber escort mission of World War II
- At least one Silver Star
- 96 Distinguished Flying Crosses
- 14 Bronze Stars
- 744 Air Medals
- Eight Purple Hearts.
RED TAILS NICKNAME: When the pilots of the 332nd Fighter Group painted the tails of their P-51's red, the nickname "Red Tails" was coined. Bomber crews applied a more effusive "Red-Tail Angels" sobriquet.