99th FTS pays tribute to fallen Tuskegee Airman

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Shelby Pruitt
  • 12th Flying Training Wing Public Affairs

The 99th Flying Training Squadron paid tribute June 21 to a member of a groundbreaking African-American flying unit that overcame racial prejudice and stereotypes to excel in its mission at the height of World War II.

The memorial service at Fort Sam Houston National Cemetery honored Dr. Granville Coggs, a Documented Original Tuskegee Airman who died June 6 in San Antonio at the age of 93. The service culminated in a flyover conducted by two 99th FTS T-1A Jayhawks emblazoned with the “Red Tails” associated with the Tuskegee Airmen.

Coggs, an Arkansas native who became a radiologist after the war and was a longtime San Antonio resident, trained at Tuskegee Army Airfield, Class 45G, and served in the U.S. Army Air Corps, earning military badges of aerial gunner, aerial bombardier, multi-engine pilot and Tuskegee Airman.

“Dr. Coggs is one of a very few remaining Documented Original Tuskegee Airmen. The spoken history of first-hand experiences and a crucial period for nation will soon only be found in history books,” said Maj. David M. Kim, Chief of Standardization and Evaluation, 99th Flying Training Squadron. "Just reflecting on Dr. Coggs’ biography that hangs in our squadron, he left an everlasting impact while on this earth and was the epitome of service in his military and civilian lives alike.”

Maj. William Wilkerson, 99th FTS pilot, explained that the flyover made it a good day’s work.

“It was an honor to be able to pay our respects with a pilot’s send-off.  I’m not much for pomp and ceremony, or even flyovers at sporting events, but a flier’s salute from one generation to the next is always an honor,” Wilkerson said. “We sent off one of our own the right way.”

Kim agreed that it was an honor to support this event.

“While I didn’t know Dr. Coggs personally, it is never easy to hear about the passing of a fellow military member, retired or active duty. Therefore, I’m honored to be part of the day that is dedicated to preserving his memory and venerating a lifetime of selfless service to a cause bigger than any of us,” he said.

The significance of this flyover is credited to the 99th FTS heritage with the Tuskegee Airmen and their “Red Tails” aircraft.

The 99th FTS story began at Chanute Field, Illinois, where it was originally constituted and activated as the 99th Pursuit Squadron in March 1941.

On March 7, 1942, the first class of African-American pilots, consisting of only five men, completed advanced pilot training at Tuskegee Army Air Field, Alabama. Among the graduated pilots, one was assigned to the base while the four others became the first African-American flying officers in the 99th Pursuit Squadron.

The 99th Pursuit Squadron was redesignated on May 15, 1942, as the 99th Fighter Squadron and, later that year, 1st Lt. George S. Roberts assumed command as the first African-American to command the squadron.

On Sept. 12, 1942, Lt. Faythe A. McGinnis crashed on a routine flight and became the first casualty of the 99th Fighter Squadron.

The 99th Fighter Squadron departed Tuskegee Army Air Field, enroute for their first combat operations April 2, 1943.

During their June and July tour overseas, the 99th Fighter Squadron earned the first of its three World War II Distinguished Unit Citations for missions over Sicily.

In the October-November 1947 time frame, the 99th Fighter Squadron participated in Operation Combine, a training exercise involving a simulated invasion of the United States. They performed so well that they were awarded a certificate of appreciation signed by Maj. Gen. William D. Old, Ninth Air Force commander. The certificate noted that the squadron’s personnel worked under difficulties and handicaps not normally expected, but in spite of them, performed with exceptionally high efficiency.

On July 1, 1949, the 332nd Fighter Group was inactivated and, with it, the 99th and 332nd’s two other fighter squadrons. Airmen assigned to the three squadrons were reassigned to other organizations that became racially integrated.

The name “Tuskegee Airmen” came into existence on May 15, 1955, after the publication of “The Tuskegee Airmen -- The Story of the Negro in the U.S. Air Force” by Charles E. Francis. Prior to that date, they were known as the “Red Tails.”

After multiple activations and deactivations, the squadron was finally redesignated and activated as the 99th Flying Training Squadron at Joint Base San Antonio-Randolph in 1993.

During their tours, the Tuskegee Airmen’s main mission was to escort U.S. bombers. Although they did lose some, they did have one of the best records of preserving bombers. This caused them to stay in high demand for escort service by U.S. bomber crews because of their low loss record.

Within the 99th Pursuit Squadron, 996 pilots graduated from Tuskegee Army Air Field. About 274 pilots were killed in combat, training accidents or non-combat flying-related accidents, or captured as prisoners of war.

During WWII, the Tuskegee Airmen flew 1,578 missions and 15,533 combat sorties to accomplished 112 aerial kills.

The Tuskegee Airmen with the 99th Pursuit Squadron received a total of about 923 combat awards.

The 99th FTS is very proud of its Tuskegee heritage and the T-1s they fly sport a red stripe on the tail as a homage to that heritage, Kim said. This resembles the red tails the original Tuskegee Airmen piloted. The red stripe was a way for their allies to spot them.

“As you know, many of the squadrons in the Air Force have a rich history; to be part of the original Tuskegee Airman squadron, however, is both an honor and humbling,” he said. “Just thinking about the obstacles these men and women had to overcome daily, that enables me to do what many of us take for granted every day, is hard to comprehend.”