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The Tuskegee Airmen on BlackPast.org

The Tuskegee Airmen were the first African American military aviators in the United States armed forces.  During their years of operation, 1940 to 1946, 996 pilots were trained at Tuskegee Army Air Field.  Approximately 445 were deployed overseas and 150 lost their lives during that period.  Sixty-six pilots were killed in action or accidents and 32 were captured and held as prisoners of war.

The Tuskegee Airmen served primarily in three units.  The first unit, the 99th Pursuit Squadron, was activated at Chanute Field in Rantoul, Illinois on March 19, 1941, nine months before the United States officially entered World War II.  They transferred to Tuskegee, Alabama in June, 1941 where they received pilot training.  At that time the unit had 47 white officers and 429 enlisted men. By mid-1942 nearly 3,000 white and black personnel were stationed at Tuskegee Army Air Field.  The African American personnel were placed under the command of Captain Benjamin O. Davis, Jr. one of only two black line officers then serving in the U.S. Army.  Davis reported to Major James Ellison, the commander of the 99th Fighter Squadron.

In April 1943, the 99th was deemed ready for combat and was transferred to North Africa where it was assigned to the 33rd Fighter Group.  There it first saw action and on May 30, 1943 the squadron attacked the small island of Pantelleria in the Mediterranean Sea to clear sea lanes for the Allied invasion of Sicily scheduled for July. The air strikes led the Italian population on the island to surrender to Allied forces on June 11.   The 99th moved on to Sicily where it continued to fly combat missions.

A third group of Tuskegee Airmen were trained in the U.S. to operate B-25 bombers.  Although they were organized as the 477th Bombardment Group in 1943, they did not complete their training in time to see overseas combat.

The Tuskegee Airmen flew 15,533 combat sorties on 1,578 missions during World War II. Fifty-five airmen were credited with destroying 112 German aircraft in the air.  Three Airmen, First Lieutenant Roscoe Brown, First Lieutenant Earl R. Lane, and Second Lieutenant Charles V. Brantley shot down three Messerschmitt Me 262 jet fighers over Berlin on March 24, 1945.  Three airmen, Captain Edward Toppins, Captain Joseph Elsberry, and First Lieutenant Lee Archer, shot down four planes during their service in Europe but no Tuskegee Airman got the coveted fifth “kill” which would have placed them in the rare “ace” category.  They and other airmen destroyed another 150 planes on the ground as well as approximately 950 railcars, trucks, and other motor vehicles.

The Airmen received three Distinguished Unit Citations. The 99th Pursuit Squadron’s first citation was awarded for its bombing and strafing of the enemy controlled airfield at Pantelleria, Italy between May 30 and June 11, 1943. The second citation was awarded to the 99th Fighter Squadron (the unit had been renamed) for successful air strikes against Monte Cassino, Italy. The 332 Fighter Group received a citation for participating in the longest bomber escort mission in World War II when American planes attacked Berlin, Germany from bases in Italy on March 24, 1945. Six weeks later on April 30, Nazi Germany surrendered ending the war in Europe.

The Tuskegee Airmen were often the subjects of incorrect claims that exaggerated or intentionally minimized their role and record in World War II aerial combat.  Yet the accomplishments of these pilots are best summarized by Dr. Daniel L. Haulman, historian of the Air Force Historical Research Agency and author of the 2011 article, “Nine Myths About the Tuskegee Airmen.".  Haulman writes: “Whoever dispenses with the myths that have come to circulate around the Tuskegee Airmen in the many decades since World War II emerges with a greater appreciation for what they actually accomplished.  If they did not demonstrate that they were far superior to the members of the six non-black fighter escort groups of the Fifteenth Air Force with which they served, they certainly demonstrated that they were not inferior to them either.  Moreover, they began at a line farther back, overcoming many more obstacles on the way to combat.”


Wickliffe Hall of Fame Memorial

 

Earl Roscoe Lane was born in Redbird, Oklahoma, a Negro town formed after the Civil War to enable freed slaves to live in economic independence and dignity.  He moved to Wickliffe when he was age ten.

He attended Wilberforce University and Case Western Reserve University(CWRU) in Cleveland, Ohio and received a Law Degree from John Marshall Law School in Chicago, Illinois.

Earl served in the Army Air Corp from 1944 to 1948.  He was a member of an elite group of Negro pilots trained at Tuskegee Institute.  As a member of the 332nd Fighter Group he was awarded eight (8) medals, including the Distinguished Flying Cross, being one of the first of three Tuskegee Airmen to shoot down a German Messerschmitt-262 jet on March 24, 1945.

World War II forced Dorothy Chaffin to cut her education at West Virginia State College short, and she returned to Cleveland where she started working for the United States Navy Finance Department.  While working there she met Earl and they later married in June, 1948.  Earl and Dorothy resided in Cleveland.  Then in 1958, Earl Lane returned with his wife and daughter to Wickliffe to a house he and his wife had built on Robindale, next door to his parents Levi and Catherine Lane.  Earl and Dorothy were the parents of one daughter, Leslie Karen.  He owned a number of successful businesses in Cleveland. 

Earl continued to pilot planes until the late 1970s, when he was forced to discontinue because of his health.  His love of flying never diminished.

Earl died on June 27, 1990, at the age of 69 in Cleveland, Ohio.

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