GAMBIER — Kenyon Students and members of the community filled Rosse Hall Wednesday afternoon, eager to hear about the Tuskegee Airmen and the blows they struck against the Nazis in Europe in World War II and the racism in the U.S. Military.
The program opened with the video “Double Victory: The Tuskegee Airmen at War,” then continued with a panel consisting of three members of the Ohio Memorial Chapter of Tuskegee Airmen Inc., and a World War II veteran who served as a gunner on a B-24 bomber escorted by the black pilots.
Bomber crews came to love the sight of the 332nd Fighter Group — the “Red Tails” — because the unit never lost an escorted bomber to enemy fighter action.
Wesley described his flying encounter with the Red Tails: He was on a mission to Germany, flying out of Italy, when one of the fighter planes flew alongside the B-24.
“He grinned at me, and me at him, then a 105 went off near the plane” and the fighter went back to its escort position.
Most of the evening did not center on the combat exploits of the 332nd, but on the prejudice and discrimination encountered by the Tuskegee Airmen and other African- American soldiers and sailors of the time.
Elder was the only panelist who actually served with the 332nd, having been a ground crew chief for a P-47 fighter. He had not encountered the overt racism of segregation, having grown up in an integrated neighborhood in Columbus.
One of his first encounters with it occurred at a San Antonio movie theater, where he and some friends were going to attend a movie. The theater refused to admit him by the front door; he had to go around back to the other entrance. He told his friends to go on in and he would go to the other entrance, where he went in, but he had to sit in the balcony.
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