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Local Tuskegee Airmen - especially Col. Fitzroy 'Buck' Newsum - have high hopes for Hollywood film

5:06 PM, Feb 6, 2012   |    comments
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"It's time that they give us some recognition," said the 93-year-old. "It's one thing to be good. But for others to know about it, it's even better."

A sold-out crowd gathered to meet a handful of locally-based Tuskegee Airmen and see the new film based on the experiences of the first group of African-American pilots in the military.

The film "Red Tails" was produced by George Lucas and made $20 million on its opening weekend (far surpassing the 1995 HBO-produced film "The Tuskegee Airmen"). It is the sort of attention that Elder James Brown, a Denver-based Tuskegee Airman, could not have imagined.

"We were an Air Force within the Air Force," he said. "There were two Air Forces - the black and the white."

At the time that the Tuskegee Airmen were formed, the U.S. military was segregated. The airmen, originally known as the 332nd Fighter Group, were the first African-American pilots in the U.S. military.

"The white instructors at Tuskegee really didn't want to train us," he said, adding that instructors often kept Tuskegee pilots in training for months longer than other pilots, to avoid giving members of the 332nd the opportunity to go into battle. But that extra training actually gave the Tuskegee Airmen an advantage.

"Oh gosh, yes! We knew exactly what to do," Brown said.

The roughly 900 pilots trained at Tuskegee Field in Alabama. Of those 900, about 450 of the airmen flew missions overseas. Col. Newsum was one of those pilots.

"They said that you'd never make it as a flyer," recalled Newsum, "I said 'But you don't know me.'"

The pilots often served as bomber escorts in World War II. Though the belief that the group never lost a plane or a pilot has been disproven, the Tuskegee Airmen still had a very high rate of success in their missions. Brown attributes that success to a very meticulous execution of their missions.

"We shot down the first jet the Germany sent up," he said.

Gilbert Wheeler, chairman of the Honor the Airmen Committee, organized the movie premiere. His non-profit organization, On Laughter Silvered Wings, shares the dream of flying with Friday's youth. He credits the Tuskegee Airmen with making that dream possible.

"Now we can use it as a means to educate the kids," said Wheeler. "To motivate the kids. They can see what these young gentlemen did back then, where their mindset was and what they chose to accomplish."

(KUSA-TV © 2012 Multimedia Holdings Corporation)

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