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Press Releases
Press Releases

Monday, December 18, 2006

Orange Coast College will host its fourth annual tribute luncheon to honor the Tuskegee Airmen of World War II on Friday, Feb. 9.

The luncheon is being staged on campus in honor of Black History Month.

The event will include a new wrinkle this year. A 90-minute presentation for local junior high and high school students will begin at 10 a.m. in Robert B. Moore Theatre on OCC’s campus. As many as a dozen original Tuskegee Airmen will be on hand to greet the students. Special guest speaker will be former NASA astronaut, Capt. Winston Scott.

Scott, who has logged a total of 24 days, 14 hours and 34 minutes in space — and three space walks totaling 19 hours and 26 minutes — says, as an African-American, that he could never have become an astronaut without the trailblazing work of the Tuskegee Airmen.

The luncheon will begin at noon in OCC’s Student Center Lounge. Scott will speak at the luncheon, as will Capt. Richard D. Macon, a Tuskegee airman who flew 16_ missions over Europe during World War II as a fighter pilot.

Macon was strafing ground targets over southern France on Aug. 12, 1944, when his Mustang was hit by ground fire. He managed to eject from the plane at treetop level, his parachute deployed and he landed in a field. Macon’s plane crashed into a building used by the Germans as a headquarters, killing more than 40 German officers and soldiers.

Macon’s neck was broken in the jump, and he was temporarily paralyzed. He narrowly avoided being shot by a firing squad, and was held in a German POW camp for more than nine months. He received The Air Medal, Presidential Citation and Purple Heart.

Macon will tell his story during the luncheon.

The student presentation in Robert B. Moore Theatre is free. Luncheon tickets are priced at $75 each.

Proceeds from OCC’s luncheon will be used to fund a scholarship program for campus aviation students in the name of the Tuskegee Airmen. Proceeds will also support the Aviation Explorers Program, headquartered at Tomorrow’s Nautical Museum, at the Compton Airport. For information about individual luncheon tickets or tables, contact OCC’s Foundation at (714) 432-5707.

The Tuskegee Airmen were dedicated and determined young black men who enlisted in the military during World War II to become America’s first African-American military airmen. They trained at Tuskegee Army Air Field in Tuskegee, Ala., and served their country with distinction.

Many members of the Los Angeles Chapter of the Tuskegee Airmen, Inc. are expected to be on hand for the Feb. 9 luncheon, along with representatives from other Tuskegee chapters around the country.

A total of 450 pilots who trained at Tuskegee Army Air Field served overseas in either the 99th Fighter Squadron or 332nd Fighter Group. The 99th trained in P-40 Warhawk aircraft, and flew the planes in combat in North Africa, Sicily and Italy, from April 1943 through July 1944. Members of the squadron were later transferred to the 332nd Fighter Group in the 15th Air Force.

The 332nd flew patrols over Naples Harbor and the Mediterranean Sea in February of 1944. In April, the Fighter Group transferred to Italy’s Adriatic coast and began conducting long-range heavy bomber escort missions for the 15th Strategic Air Force. The 99th Fighter Squadron joined the 332nd in July of 1944.

The 99th received two Presidential Unit Citations for outstanding tactical air support and aerial combat. The 332nd received the Presidential Unit Citation for its longest bomber escort mission to Berlin, conducted on March 24, 1945. The fighters destroyed three German ME-262 jet fighters during the mission, and damaged five additional jet fighters. The 332nd did not lose a single bomber during its mission, nor did it lose any of its own fighter aircraft to enemy aircraft.

The Germens, who both feared and respected the Tuskegee Airmen, referred to them as the "Schwartze Vogelmenshen" (Black Birdmen). The white bomber crews called them the "Red Tail Angels," because of the distinctive red paint on their tail assemblies and for their reputation for not losing bombers to enemy fighters as they provided fighter escort over strategic targets in Europe.

Today, the Tuskegee Airmen, Inc. sponsor a national scholarship fund that has assets exceeding $1.7 million. The airmen award over $60,000 in scholarships every year to deserving high school graduates.