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Tue, Dec 12, 2006

Historian Says Tuskegee Airmen's Record May Not Be So Perfect

Claims Reports Show Escorted Bombers Were Shot Down

For over 60 years, it has been a mark of pride... the claim that America's first black fighter pilots, the Tuskegee Airmen, never lost a bomber to enemy fire while flying escort runs in World War II. But one man says he has evidence that claim may be inaccurate.

William F. Holton has been the historian for Tuskegee Airmen Inc. for nearly 10 years... and he says Air Force records show at least a few bombers were shot down while under escort by the famed Red Tail Squadron. Holton first made his comments Sunday to the Montgomery (AL) Advertiser.

In an interview with the Associated Press, Holton says the unblemished record claim appears to have started in May 1945. That's when Colonel Buck Taylor wrote a letter commending Tuskegee group leader Gen. Benjamin O. Davis Jr., in which Taylor stated the group had the distinction of never losing a bomber.

"That's sort of where the whole concept emanated from," Holton said.

But that goes against several combat mission reports from the period, Holton says. He cites one report from July 1944, that states "1 B-24 seen spiraling out of formation in T/A (target area) after attack by E/A (enemy aircraft). No chutes seen to open."

Another report says "10 Me-109s attacked the rear of the bomber formation from below and left one B-17 burning, with 6 chutes seen to open."

Daniel Haulman, of the Air Force Historical Research Agency at Maxwell-Gunter Air Force Base in Montgomery, came to the same conclusion.

Holton's comments have been scornfully rebuked by surviving members of the Tuskegee Airmen, who say the historian is trying to damage the group's reputation, years after the fact.

"I think they are trying to destroy our record. What's the point now?" said former Airman Carrol Woods, adding the claims are "outrageous."

Holton said his only interest is making sure the group's history is as accurate as possible... and he notes that while the Tuskegee Airmen's record may not have been perfect, it was still very impressive.

The issue may forever remain the subject of conjecture, and deeply-held opinion... but already, the president of the Tuskegee Airmen says he will no longer claim in speeches the group never lost a bomber under its escort.

"I'm going to drop (it) until we can get this thing clarified," said retired Air Force Lt. Gen. Russell Davis. "We've got some homework to do, obviously."

FMI: www.tuskegeeairmen.org

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