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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, Oxford University Press, 2011. Illustrations. Notes. Bibliography. Index. Pp. 241. $24.95 ISBN: 978-0-1953-8657-4

Freedom Flyers is the best book to date about the Tuskegee Airmen. Dr. Moye has nailed the saga, punctured numerous myths, and provides the whole story, including the significance of the Tuskegee Airmen for United States domestic politics and culture.

Among many things to admire is the front of the dust jacket (something seldom, if ever, mentioned in a review): Moye represents the Tuskegee Airmen by displaying five enlisted Tuskegee Airmen maintaining an aircraft or searching the skies for the return of their warbirds. Seldom does any author writing about black aviation units mention the indispensible enlisted personnel. About 990 pilots graduated from Tuskegee Army Airfield. They served in the four fighter squadrons and also the four B-25 squadrons (which did not fly in combat). Another several hundred officers were trained (at bases other than Tuskegee Army Air Field) to be navigators and navigator-bombardiers who were trained

There were also more than 13,000 enlisted men who supported them. When the Tuskegee Airmen received The Congressional Gold Medal from President George W. Bush its engraved face had three individuals: a fighter pilot, a bomber officer crewmember and between them an enlisted man. Thank you J. Todd Moye for recognizing the enlisted personnel. His book tells the reader about all Tuskegee Airmen.

The author better than virtually all who have published on this subject recognizes the connection between American domestic politics and President Franklin D. Roosevelt's election-politics-driven promise in 1940 to open Army aviation to blacks, and President Harry S Truman's similarly motivated 1948 Executive Order 9981 calling for equal opportunity--not racial integration--in the armed forces. Furthermore, Moye appreciates the essential nature of Col. Noel Parrish's leadership skills to the success of the flight training of the pilots and their maintenance crews, He, moreover, displays in appropriate detail the combat success of the Tuskegee Airmen in North Africa, Sicily, and Italy. Moye perceptively analyzes the Freeman Field Mutiny in 1945, telling the story objectively. He is sensitive to the role the Tuskegee Airmen played in armed forces racial integration and the nuanced activity of President Truman (although I believe he is overly generous to Truman). Moye gives the proper credit for Air Force racial integration to Lieutenant General Idwal Edwards, Air Force Deputy Chief of Staff for Personnel. Edwards drove this reform from start to finish and has never received proper credit in a general history of the Tuskegee Airmen. Moye has plumbed the depths of primary sources at the National Archives, the Air Force Historical Research Agency archives at Maxwell Air Force Base, Alabama, the Library of Congress and elsewhere. He uses many pungent quotations to brighten the story.

The last point in the previous paragraph is also a weakness. Moye is truly a professional historian, but this reviewer believes he has overused oral history. I interviewed many people he cites and the stories they told me were often slightly different, and sometimes factually wrong. Memory, it is said, seems to improve with age, but we all know memories fade with age. Oral history is almost always self-serving and must be used with care. The fundamentals of Moye's story are not distorted by oral history, but more care needed to be taken. For one telling example, the author uses interviews to describe the purpose of Army "Regulation 210-10" promulgated in late 1940. The Tuskegee Airmen assert (and so does Moye) it was written to permit blacks officers to use Officer's Clubs. There were, however, only two black operational officers in the Regular Army then, and the purpose was to ensure the various branches (artillery, infantry, cavalry, etc) did not exclude officers from other specialties from officer's clubs annexes. Minor point, but it is an issue needing to be made. There are other examples where Moye relies on the Tuskegee Airmen to cite motivation or facts which are erroneous, but, as I said previously, the fundamentals of the account are sound.

Finally, Moye sensitively and accurately portrays the current noisy discussion on the accuracy of the claim the Tuskegee Airmen escort fighter pilots never lost a friendly bomber to an enemy fighter. The assertion by the men of the 332d Fighter Group and many historians is sixty years old and Moye objectively puts the matter in perspective. I leave it to the readers of Freedom Fliers to make their own judgment.

If you were to own one history of the Tuskegee Airmen, it should be this one.

Dr. Alan R. Gropman is a retired colonel who wrote the history of Air Force racial integration and edited the US. Army Center of Military History's account of armed forces racial integration. He has also written extensively on the Tuskegee Airmen.
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Author:Gropman, Alan R.
Publication:Air Power History
Article Type:Book review
Date:Mar 22, 2011
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