JBSA community, 99th FTS celebrate Tuskegee Airmen heritage, legacy

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Alexandria Slade
  • 502nd Air Base Wing Public Affairs
Members of the 99th Flying Training Squadron and Joint Base San Antonio community had the opportunity to meet and greet five barrier-breaking documented original Tuskegee Airmen through multiple events during a two-day visit to JBSA-Randolph June 11-12.

During the first day, the 99th FTS honored the legacy of the Tuskegee Airmen by taking the members of the first all-black unit of the Army Air Corps over San Antonio and its surrounding areas in multiple T-1 A Jayhawk aircraft formations, followed by a 'fini flight' celebration to symbolize a successful mission.

"We were given an amazing opportunity and when the squadron was asked for volunteers, 99th FTS members stepped up to the plate to fly with the Tuskegee Airmen," Maj. Kevin Justice, 99th FTS department of training officer, said.

The second day included a social open where all members of the JBSA community had been invited to attend. The event featured a combination of live music from the 1940s and members dressed in Tuskegee Airmen uniforms, providing an authentic World War II era setting for the event. The festivities included a time for guests to mingle with the Tuskegee Airmen and hear their stories.

"The 99th FTS has been remarkably supportive of the Tuskegee Airmen since I've been in San Antonio and even more so in the past couple years," Dr. Eugene Derricotte, documented original Tuskegee Airman, said. "I'm pleased and honored that we've received such respect."

The segregated flight-training program for the Tuskegee Airmen was created in 1942 and based at Tuskegee Institute and Tuskegee Army Air Field in Alabama; its graduates took part in more than 15,500 sorties and more than 1,500 missions in Europe and North Africa.

"There are a lot of things you can take away from the Tuskegee Airmen's service, just by looking at the adversity they had to go through," Justice said. "If you look at the courage these men showed every day while going out with people who didn't really want them to succeed, you realize they overcame every obstacle put in front of them and showed that they could not only overcome but excel past what the expectations were of them at that time period."

"What I take away from their experiences is that I can go much further than anyone expects and if I continue to work hard I can do great things," he said.

The 99th FTS traces its lineage back to the 99th Pursuit Squadron and 99th Fighter Squadron, the first of four African American fighter squadrons in World War II whose aircrews and support teams were based at Tuskegee Institute and Tuskegee Army Air Field in Alabama.

The Tuskegee Airmen in attendance to this event were as follows:

· James Bynum was born in Lexington County, South Carolina, but grew up in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. It was there he joined the Army in 1941 until his initial discharge in 1945. In less than six months, Bynum was back in his uniform at Fort Meade, Maryland and then he was assigned to the 332nd at Lockbourne, Ohio. His varied assignments included Washington, Japan, Vermont, ROTC duties at Tennessee State University; Texas and then the Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe in Paris, France before a return to Texas. His his 30-year military career culminated in 1971.

· Dr. Granville C. Coggs is a proud native of Arkansas. He earned military badges as an aerial gunner, aerial bombardier, as well as a multi-engine pilot, while serving in the Army Air Corps from 1943-1946. After receiving his bachelor of science degree and doctor of medicine degree, Dr. Coggs led a distinctive medical career as the first African American staff physician at Kaiser Hospital, San Fransisco (1959); the first head of the Ultrasound Radiology Division, University of California, San Fransisco (1972); and inventor of several patented cancer detection, treatment and research devices.

· Dr. Eugene Derricotte, who grew up in Defiance, Ohio. He entered the University of Michigan in 1944, but was drafted into the Army in December 1944 and shipped to Fort Bragg, North Carolina as an artillery cannoneer. Midway through training, he was told of the pilot training program at Tuskegee; volunteered, and graduated in Class 46-B in May 1946. In 1950, he earned his pharmacy degree and ended four years of varsity football to include winning the 1948 Rose Bowl. With a second degree in dentistry in 1958, he returned to the military, serving in Vietnam, South Dakota, Massachusetts, Texas, Hawaii, Virginia, Illinois and the Air Force Academy before retiring in 1985.

· Thomas Ellis, a native of San Antonio, had only been married for six months when he was drafted into the Army in June 1942. He was transferred to the Army Air Corps after basic training. Upon his completion of administrative clerk training, he was reassigned to Tuskegee Army Air Field as the only enlisted member in the newly activated 301st Fighter Squadron orderly room. Ellis was involved in the 332nd Fighter Group's move to Taranto, Italy, and distinguished himself in his duties in Salerno, Montecorvino, Anzio, Foggia, Naples and Rome, being awarded seven battle stars before his discharge in September 1945.

· Theodore Johnson was inducted through selective service in 1943 and sent to Fort Benning, Georgia. After three days of processing and being classified as general service, he was sent home for 21 days in reserve status until new recruits could be accommodated. Upon returning for active duty, he was sent to basic training in St. Louis, Missouri. After training, he was sent to Fresno, California followed by Tenopah, Nevada, and on to Camp Kilmer, New Jersey. On Easter of April 1944 he began a journey through Europe, where he would serve in Scotland, France, Belgium, Holland and Germany. 

Along with the 99th FTS, the San Antonio Chapter of Tuskegee Airmen Inc., an organization that preserves their legacy and seeks to inspire young people through education, co-sponsored this year's events. The 99th FTS headquarters in Hangar 12 is filled with photographs and other mementos that celebrate the legacy of the Tuskegee Airmen.