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Coast To Coast

Coast To Coast

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Tuskegee airmen

Orange Coast College will host its third annual tribute luncheon next February to honor the famous Tuskegee Airmen of World War II.

The luncheon is set for Friday, Feb. 10, 2006, at 11:45 a.m. in the Student Center. More than a hundred people attended last year's luncheon.

Tickets are priced at $50, and proceeds are being used to fund an OCC scholarship for aviation students in the name of the Tuskegee Airmen. For ticket information, phone Ext. 25707.

Two years ago, OCC's Aviation Pilot Training Program initiated a program of classes for urban youngsters. The classes are being offered at Compton Airport, the headquarters for the Los Angeles Chapter of the Tuskegee Airmen, Inc.

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 L.A. Chapter of the Tuskegee Airmen are expected to be on hand for the Feb. 10 luncheon, along with several representatives from other Tuskegee chapters around the country. A guest speaker will be featured.

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.

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.