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CAF Red Tail Squadron, Tuskegee Airman at KidVenture
By Katie Holliday-Greenley
July 26, 2017 - This year, for the first time, the Commemorative Air Force brought its Red Tail Squadron Rise Above traveling exhibit to KidVenture at EAA AirVenture Oshkosh.
The Red Tail Squadron is dedicated to honoring the men and women who were members of the 332nd Fighter Group, nicknamed the Red Tail squadron — or Tuskegee Airmen — during World War II.
“It’s inspiring youth to overcome obstacles in our life and aim for excellence based on the lessons of the Tuskegee Airmen,” said Red Tail Squadron Marketing Director LaVone Kay of the exhibit. “Life’s unfair, but if you believe in yourself, set goals, stay focused, and overcome obstacles, you will succeed. And here’s a group of people who did what everybody thought they couldn’t do. So it’s having that positive impact on the youth.”
“The Tuskegee Airmen was the only organization that was open to African-American pilots,” said Lt. Col. Harry Stewart, who was a fighter pilot in the 15th Air Force. “So that was the organization that I happened to belong to.”
Harry flew 43 missions over central Europe, primarily out of Italy, escorting bombers. One of his most memorable experiences was at the end of his training in South Carolina.
“This strange plane was flying by, and we got in a simulated dogfight,” he said. “And inside of 30 seconds, this pilot shot me down. We both landed at the same field, and I didn’t know who this pilot was. I got out of the cockpit, took my helmet off, started stepping out of the airplane, and this person got out of their cockpit, took their helmet off, and this flaming red hair fell down around her shoulders.”
Harry had been “shot down” by a member of another group that changed history during WWII: Women Airforce Service Pilots.
The Tuskegee Airmen achievements ultimately led to the integration of the U.S. military in 1948. Harry thinks it also had a great deal to do with the end of segregation throughout the rest of the country.
“I think the Red Tail Squadron is doing a wonderful job especially as far as inspiring youth is concerned,” he said. “I’m delighted to have been invited by them.”
The Rise Above exhibit includes a mobile movie theater with a 160-degree panoramic screen showing Rise Above, a film that immerses viewers in the Tuskegee Airmen’s history, the Red Tail Squadron, and the CAF’s Tuskegee Airmen P-51 Mustang named to honor the squadron’s men and women.
Terry and Jeanette Hollis are the drive team and tour managers for Rise Above, and have been involved with the program for seven years. “It’s more of a privilege for us, for the sole reason that we get to be with some of the last living airmen,” Terry said. “It’s truly an honor to be around them to hear their stories up close and personal and trying to make a difference in the lives of the young people.”
“It’s very rewarding,” Jeanette added.
The Red Tail Squadron travels the country stopping at air shows, schools, museums, and other events to share its mission of perseverance. LaVone said they try to have one of the Tuskegee Airmen along as often as possible. The CAF Red Tail Squadron will be at KidVenture through Sunday, with autograph sessions from 2 to 3 p.m. today and Saturday with Lt. Col. Stewart.