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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 nailed the saga, punctured numerous myths, and provided 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 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 indispensable enlisted personnel. About 990 pilots graduated from Tuskegee Army Airfield. They served in four combat fighter squadrons and four B-25 squadrons that did not fly in combat. Another several hundred officers were trained at bases other than Tuskegee to be navigators and navigator-bombardiers.

More than 13,000 enlisted men supported the crews. 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 an enlisted man between them. Thank you Dr. Moye for recognizing the enlisted personnel. This book tells the reader about all Tuskegee Airmen.

Moye, better than virtually all who have published on this subject, recognizes the connection between American domestic politics and President Roosevelt's election-politics-driven promise in 1940 to open Army aviation to blacks, and President 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 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, Air Force Historical Research Agency archives, 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 a truly professional historian, but I believe 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 are not distorted by oral history, but more care needed to be taken. For one example, he used interviews to describe the purpose of Army Regulation 210-10 promulgated in late 1940. The Tuskegee Airmen assert (as 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 club 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 erroneous facts 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 that 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 L. Gropman, Col, USAF (Ret.), wrote the history of Air Force racial integration and edited the U.S. 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 L.
Publication:Air Power History
Article Type:Book review
Date:Sep 22, 2011
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