Filmmaker George Lucas said he had been waiting 20 years to make “Red Tails,” a fictional tail of real American heroes: the Tuskegee Airmen. The Tuskegee pilots were America’s first all Black aerial combat unit who flew more than 15,000 excursions and completed over 1,500 missions during World War II. When the war ended, the Tuskegee Airmen returned home with 150 Distinguished Flying Crosses, Legions of Merit and the Red Star of Yugoslavia.
“Red Tails,” which opens in theaters Jan. 20 shares the fearless and inspiring story of the Tuskegee Airmen but Arthur Carter Sr. doesn’t need a history lesson before attending the film – he was there. The lone living Tuskegee Airman in Indianapolis, Carter, 89, kept a diary while attending Tuskegee Army Air Field in Alabama. He wrote about the birth of his son John Dale Carter and why he wasn’t one of the 996 pilots that finished the flight course.
On the 15th of June, 1944 I submitted my application for air crew training. On the 22 of May, 1945 I completed pre flight training and was transferred to Tuskegee Institute for entry into primary training. It was the beginning of my flying training,” Carter read from his diary.
While training at Tuskegee Carter wrote, “I took off on my first supervised solo flight and ground looped the plane upon landing the PT-13 and I was recommended for elimination, which means I washed out.”
Although Carter wasn’t one of the 996 pilots, he was one of more than 17,000 Tuskegee Airman who were assigned, stationed or at Tuskegee Institute for duty over the course of the war. When asked to recollect a favorite memory, Carter admits that it’s difficult because, “the bad memories outweigh the good memories.”
“When the pilots came down off the ship (coming home) there were two signs, one said ‘colored’ and the other said ‘whites,'” he said. “The comment was made that nothing had changed. We had fought in two wars (World War II and the blatant discrimination we faced) and nothing changed.”
Carter, who served for three years and 28 days, said he’s happy that the history is being made available to a larger audience, many of whom he believes know little about the Tuskegee Airman.
“It’s important because it’s going to get the story out for those who don’t have a clue about what we went through,” he said. “The war was 67 years ago. All of us are pushing 90. We’re dying by the dozens everyday and there were over 17,000 of us.”
See the Tuskegee Airmen exhibit at the Indiana War Memorial
“The Test: An Exhibition about the First Black Aviators in the U.S. Military,” will inform visitors about the Airmen, the craft they flew and their military operations. A viewing documentary film “Double Victory,” also directed by George Lucas, is included with the exhibit. It is to supplement the learning experience of the movie “Red Tails.”
The exhibit is open for public viewing at the Indiana War Memorial, 431 N. Meridian St. now through March 4.