NVMM Reads: “Keep Your Airspeed Up: The Story of a Tuskegee Airman”

This month, we’re highlighting, “Keep Your Airspeed Up: The Story of a Tuskegee Airman,” as part of our monthly reading list. Throughout the pages of his book, author Lt. Col. Harold H. Brown, U.S. Army Air Force (Retired), shares his grit and resilience as part of the famed 332nd Fighter Group, the Tuskegee Airmen combat fighter pilots. As a group, they advanced diversity in the U.S. military by showing their capabilities to fly military aircraft and become an elite flying force during World War II. Their strength and determination to fight a war while fighting racism helped break many long-standing prejudices in the military.

This book is an insightful autobiography which details defining events and thrilling moments in Harold Brown’s life. He details his childhood and various factors that influenced his introduction to aviation and military service, intertwining history and elements of motivation throughout his narrative. Brown entered the military to pursue a career in flying and was immediately accepted into the Tuskegee Institute in Alabama. He served in World War II, the Korean War and with Strategic Air Command during the Cold War. Brown highlights interactions with other pilots and authorities, his missions flown and his progression within the military aviation ranks.

As you read this book, you will feel as though you’re listening to a trusted friend or relative. He shares each hardship and every success with poise and humility – including his time as a prisoner of war and being awarded the Congressional Gold Medal, along with his fellow Tuskegee Airmen. By presenting himself in such a manner, he instills his genuine mission in the hearts of his readers, revealing his “how” and his “why” for success. This writing style also reveals his identity as a teacher. He laces the pages with valuable lessons, and even explicitly states a few words of advice at the end of his work. A lesson can be learned both through his journey and his intention in chronicling his story.

On a recent visit, Lt. Col. Brown shared with us many pearls of wisdom, including “Always keep flying.” This truly defines who Harold Brown is as a teacher, a leader, a writer and an aviator. Our Guest Experience Team highly recommends adding this NVMM Reads to your book list this February.

Inspiring Story of Service: Serbennia Davis

In honor of Black History Month, we connect you to the inspiring story of service from U.S. Army Veteran and photojournalist, Serbennia Davis. She shares her path to the Army, 27-year marriage and what Black History Month means to her.

The Role of African Americans in World War I

African Americans have served the U.S. military in every conflict our country has fought. While President Harry S. Truman’s order technically ended segregation in the military in 1948, Black service members continued to fight battles on two fronts – against the enemy overseas and against racism at home. This February, we share the inspiring stories of African American Veterans who showed tremendous courage and heroism during World War I.

During World War I, approximately 367,000 African Americans service members served in Europe. The U.S. was in desperate need of manpower and thus, organized two divisions of segregated men, the 92nd Division and the 93rd Division. The 92nd would carry the name “Buffalo Soldiers” as their nickname and the 93rd would be known as the “Blue Helmets.” Several regiments of African American soldiers were organized and trained at Camp Sherman near Chillicothe, Ohio. The 317th Engineers Regiment, 317th Engineers Train and the 325th  Field Signal Battalion would join the 92nd  Division in France. The 813th Pioneer Infantry regiment would end up with the U.S. Second Army in France in 1918.

Brand new African-American recruits stand at attention with their drill instructor at Camp Sherman, Ohio. Photo courtesy of the U.S. National Archives.
Henry Lincoln Johnson in uniform. Photo courtesy of the U.S. Army

Sergeant Henry Johnson

While fighting in Europe, most units were confined to support roles behind the lines. An exception was the 369th Infantry Regiment, which spent longer in combat (191 days in frontline trenches) and suffered more casualties (1,500) than any other Black U.S. regiment in the war. When assigned to a French division, the 369th fought so tenaciously that the Germans called them Hell-fighters — a label expanded to Harlem Hell-fighters, since many of them came from New York City. Sergeant Henry Johnson was one of the many U.S. Army soldiers who performed heroically in this unit. On May 14, 1918, Johnson fought off a German raid in hand-to-hand combat, killing multiple soldiers and rescuing fellow soldiers while experiencing 21 wounds. He was the first U.S soldier to receive the Croix de Guerre, and was posthumously awarded the Purple Heart, Distinguished Service Cross and Medal of Honor.

We also share the story of Medal of Honor recipient, Corporal Freddie Stowers, who served with the 371st Infantry Regiment.

Black History Month is a time to recognize and celebrate the achievements, sacrifices and contributions made by African Americans. We recognize the fortitude and resilience Veterans of color have demonstrated during their military service and the military values they continue to uphold even in the face of obstacles and challenges. This month and every month, we honor them for their service and thank them for our freedoms.

African American Heroism in World War II

African Americans have served the U.S. military in every conflict our country has fought. While President Harry S. Truman’s order technically ended segregation in the military in 1948, Black service members continued to fight battles on two fronts – against the enemy overseas and against racism at home. This February, we share the inspiring stories of African American Veterans who showed tremendous courage and heroism during World War II.

Admiral Chester W. Nimitz pins a Navy Cross on Mess Attendant Second Class Miller during a ceremony aboard the USS Enterprise (CV-6) at Pearl Harbor, on May 27, 1942. Photo courtesy of the U.S. Navy.

Doris “Dorie” Miller

More than one million African American men and women served in every branch of the U.S. armed forces during World War II. Civil rights leader and author Booker T. Washington shared, “I have learned that success is to be measured not so much by the position that one has reached in life as by the obstacles which he has overcome while trying to succeed.” One such inspiring story of service is that of Doris “Dorie” Miller. He was assigned to the USS West Virginia as a Mess Attendant Third Class, one of the few ratings open to Black sailors at the time. During the attack on Pearl Harbor, Miller saved his mortally wounded captain and then manned a 50-caliber Browning antiaircraft machine gun. He fired at attacking Japanese planes until he was ordered to abandon ship. Miller shot down between four and six Japanese planes. For his efforts, he was awarded the Navy Cross, becoming the first African American to receive that citation.

First Lieutenant Vernon Baker

The 92nd Infantry Division was the only African American infantry division that participated in combat in Europe. It was part of the U.S. Fifth Army, fighting in the Italian Campaign. The division served from 1944 to the end of World War II. In the spring of 1945, First Lieutenant Vernon Baker, U.S. Army, was in command of Weapons Platoon, C Company, 1st Battalion, 370th Infantry Regiment, 92nd Infantry Division near Viareggio, Italy. On April 5, his unit was ordered to assault a German occupied mountain stronghold, Castle Aghinolfi. In doing so, Baker personally eliminated three enemy machineguns, an observation post, and a dugout. Nineteen of the 25 men in Baker’s platoon were killed due to heavy machine gun and mortar fire. On the second day of the assault, Baker volunteered to lead a battalion advance that secured the mountain. His leadership was an inspiration to those who served with him. On June 10, he was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross and then upgraded to the Medal of Honor on January 13, 1997. Baker and six other Black Americans who served in World War II were awarded the Medal of Honor, but he was the only living recipient.

Vernon Baker, US Army, World War II Medal of Honor recipient. Photo courtesy of the U.S. Army.
Harriett West Waddy was in the first class of WAAC Officer Candidate School at Fort Des Moines, Iowa. She served as the WAC Director’s advisor on African-American women and was the first African-American women promoted to the rank of major. Photo courtesy of U.S. Army Women’s Museum.

Lieutenant Colonel Harriet West Waddy

Lieutenant Colonel Harriet West Waddy served her country in the Women’s Army Corps (WAC) despite the blatant inequality that came with being both female and African American. Waddy saw her role in WAC as an opportunity to take an active role in changing the status of African American women in the military and was appointed an advisor to the Army on racial issues. We share more of her inspiring story in our blog, World War II Pioneer: Lieutenant Colonel Harriet West Waddy.

Black History Month is a time to recognize and celebrate the achievements, sacrifices and contributions made by African Americans. We recognize the fortitude and resilience Veterans of color have demonstrated during their military service and the military values they continue to uphold even in the face of obstacles and challenges. This month and every month, we honor them for their service and thank them for our freedoms.

The Red Tails: African American Pioneers

African Americans have served the U.S. military in every conflict our country has fought. While President Harry S. Truman’s order technically ended segregation in the military in 1948, Black service members continued to fight battles on two fronts – against the enemy overseas and against racism at home. This February, we share the inspiring stories of African American Veterans who showed tremendous courage and heroism during World War II.

The Tuskegee Airmen were the first African American military aviators in the United States Armed Forces. In addition to nearly 1,000 pilots, the Tuskegee program trained nearly 14,000 navigators, bombardiers, instructors, aircraft and engine mechanics, control tower operators and maintenance and support staff. They overcame prejudice and segregation to become one of the most respected fighter groups in World War II. They were sometimes referred to as the Red Tail Angels or Red Tails because of the distinctive red paint used on the tails of their fighter aircraft. 

Benjamin O. Davis, Jr. Photo courtesy of the Tuskegee Airmen Archives.

General Benjamin O. Davis, Jr.

“When somebody asks, ‘Who were the Tuskegee Airmen?’ Just a bunch of good old red-blooded American boys who went out there and did their job and did it well without any expectation of recognition or fanfare.  We just did it.  Did what we had to do.  And we’re proud of it.” – Donald Elder, Army Air Corps, World War II.

Benjamin Oliver Davis, Jr. was a commander of the World War II Tuskegee Airmen and the first African American brigadier general in the United States Air Force. Davis commanded the 99th Fighter Squadron and the 332nd Fighter Group, which escorted bombers on air combat missions over Europe. He flew 60 missions and was one of the first African American pilots to see combat. In July 1948, when President Truman signed Executive Order 9981, at the time, Colonel Davis helped draft the Air Force plan for implementing this order. The Air Force was the first of the services to integrate fully. Davis followed in his father’s footsteps in breaking racial barriers, as Benjamin O. Davis Sr. was the first African American general in the U.S. Army.

General Daniel “Chappie” James, Jr.

Daniel “Chappie” James, Jr. was an American fighter pilot in the U.S. Air Force, who in 1975 became the first African American to reach the rank of four-star general in the armed forces. In 1943, he attended the famous Tuskegee Institute and instructed African American pilots during World War II. He flew combat missions during the Korean War and Vietnam War, and received the Defense Distinguished Service Medal, two Air Force Distinguished Service Medals, two Legion of Merits, three Distinguished Flying Crosses, Meritorious Service Medal and 14 Air Medals. He was also named commander of the North American Air Defense Command (NORAD), with responsibility for all aspects of air defense for the United States and Canada.

Daniel “Chappie” James as an F-4 pilot during the Vietnam War. Photo courtesy of the U.S. Air Force.

Black History Month is a time to recognize and celebrate the achievements, sacrifices and contributions made by African Americans. We recognize the fortitude and resilience Veterans of color have demonstrated during their military service and the military values they continue to uphold even in the face of obstacles and challenges. This month and every month, we honor them for their service and thank them for our freedoms.

A Conversation with Black Vetrepreneurs [Rally Point]

On February 5, we welcomed U.S. Army Veterans James Howell of BK Smokehouse, Jeff Price of PLAN Logistics Solutions and Sizzle of Crafted Culture Brewery for a conversation about how military service impacted their drive to build their business. Join us to see the transition from military to business owner.

Special Guests:

About Rally Point:

Rally Point is a free, monthly event on the first Saturday of every month dedicated to connecting and educating Veterans, Veterans’ families, and those who wish to support Veterans. The programs focus on organizations and programs from which Veterans and their families directly benefit.

Celebrating Black History with the Veterans Portrait Project

“Freedom and the recognition of individual rights are what our revolution was all about. They were ideals that inspired our fight for independence, ideals that we have been striving to live up to ever since. Yet, it took many years before these ideals became a reality for Black citizens.” -President Gerald Ford

During Black History Month, we are sharing the experiences, challenges and triumphs of Black American Veterans by telling their stories. In our Great Hall, we showcase Stacy Pearsall’s Veterans Portrait Project photos capturing Veterans’ return to civilian life alongside their military service photos. Out of the 22 stories featured, four African Americans shared their inspiring stories of service, including U.S. Army Veterans Elizabeth Barker Johnson, Desiree Emillio-Duverge and Patrice Chandler, as well as U.S. Air Force Veteran Chris Gray.

Photo (right) is courtesy of Stacy Pearsall

Elizabeth Barker Johnson

Elizabeth Barker Johnson’s story began in February of 1946. She deployed to England with the 6888th Central Postal Directory Battalion, a unit of postal clerks, truck drivers and cooks. The 855 women of the “Six Triple Eight” sorted through seven million undelivered letters and parcels to personnel on the front lines. As a driver, Elizabeth helped move the 65,000 pieces of mail that were sorted each shift. The women then deployed to France to help keep the mail flowing until the unit was disbanded, and Elizabeth returned home. Following the war, she entered Winston Salem State Teachers’ College, now Winston-Salem State University, and is thought to be the first woman to use the GI Bill at the school, earning her bachelor’s degree in education. Elizabeth spent 40 years teaching in North Carolina and Virginia, and at the ages of 99, finally received her college diploma after missing the commencement ceremony in 1949. Sadly, she passed away in 2020 at the age of 100.

Desiree Emillio-Duverge

Meet Desiree Emillio-Duverge. She joined the U.S. Army in 1984 and worked as a Russian linguist on the front lines of the cold war in Germany.  She was inspired by the service and patriotism of her father, Clarence, a refugee from the Dominican Republic, who volunteered as an Army combat medic during World War II and later served a combat tour in the Korean War. While serving in Germany, Desiree contracted an infectious lung disease and was medically discharged from service in 1991. Though she is now wheelchair bound, Desiree remains fervently proud to have served her country. Her son, Joseph, continues the family legacy of service as a Lieutenant Commander in the Navy.

Photo (right) is courtesy of Stacy Pearsall
Photo (right) is courtesy of Stacy Pearsall

Patrice Chandler

Patrice Chandler began her military journey with her enlistment in the U.S. Army in 1999. As a certified practical nurse, Patrice bypassed technical training and reported directly to her first duty station at Ft. Campbell, Kentucky. Over her 14-year career, Patrice was assigned to Fort Benning and Fort Gordon, both in Georgia, and Ft. Hood, Texas. She worked in the surgery, intensive care, recovery and same day surgery units in roles from ward master and squad leader to combat lifesaver instructor. Patrice separated from service in 2013, at the rank of staff sergeant. She now lives in Killeen, Texas, where she continues to work as a civilian nurse.

Lieutenant Colonel Chris Gray

Nothing but blue skies for Lieutenant Colonel Chris Gray. He graduated from the United States Air Force Academy in 1993 and served as a space operations officer until his retirement in 2016. He chose to attend the academy because the school’s mission and values resonated with him. During his time there, he played football and met his wife, Rebecca Gray. In 1998, Chris and Rebecca moved to Atlanta, Georgia, where they now reside with their three daughters. He now works as a supervisor for Georgia Power. Reflecting on his military service, Chris fondly remembers the camaraderie of his satellite operations unit as they pushed to provide critical data to front line troops during Operation Enduring Freedom.

Photo (right) is courtesy of Stacy Pearsall

Please join us at the Museum to learn more about these inspiring portraits and the stories behind them. Be sure to check back each week in February on social media and right here on our website as we share a new story about Black Veterans who served our country with courage, perseverance and fortitude.

NVMM Reads: “Little Leaders: Bold Women in Black History”

In an effort to inspire young girls and women to reach for their dreams, author and illustrator Vashti Harrison brings African American women to life through “Little Leaders: Bold Women in Black History.”

This book shares the true stories of 40 trailblazing black women in American History. Readers will find biographies of heroes, role models and everyday women who contributed to making a difference in the world. While these women may have been drawn as ‘little figures,’ Harrison is proud that they have grown to become bigger figures who have inspired generations to come.

Inspiring Story of Service: General Colin L. Powell, U.S. Army (Retired)

This month’s Inspiring Story of Service honors the late General Colin L. Powell, U.S. Army (Retired). Hear from our President and CEO, Lt. General Michael Ferriter, U.S. Army (Retired) as he reflects on General Powell’s example of character, leadership and legacy of service.

Inspiring Story of Service: Jon Jackson

Jon Jackson, 2021 | © Beau Simmons

An excerpt from “The Twenty-Year War”

“My name is Jon Jackson and I was a 92A Supply Clerk in the United States Army. I was a member of the 75th Ranger Regiment when I separated and did six tours in support of the Global War on Terror. I was in for eleven years total and separated as a Staff Sergeant (E-6). I joined because of 9/11. I lived in Jersey City, on Garfield Ave., where my childhood view was the World Trade Center and the Statue of Liberty. 

After separating from the Army, I started Comfort Farms. My Ranger buddy, Kyle Comfort, was KIA in 2010. I had this thought: “Kyle was such a cool guy and ‘Comfort Farms’ is a great name,” and the farm was born. We’re committed to helping veterans heal through learning to farm. The name can be misleading; we’re not here to be comfortable. You can only grow in discomfort. We have a total farm, complete with a farmer’s market. We’re totally self-funded through what we produce. We were just awarded a grant to teach agriculture for the next three years. You can take classes at Central Georgia Tech, use your GI Bill, and get credit hours by learning farming from the ground up.

Separating is tough. You come from a unit like the Rangers and then you are out. You aren’t deploying or jumping, you feel like you lost your edge. I went through some real serious depression … almost committed suicide. When I clawed my way out and survived it, I felt like there’s nothing I couldn’t do. Even when I was having relationship issues with my wife, all the hard work on the farm had the effect of helping us repair that. You’re only as good as your support. If I look like a rockstar it’s because of my family and the veterans I work with all supporting me. You need your tribe. It’s never just about you!”

Photo: Jon Jackson, 2021 | © Beau Simmons

See Jon in our May 2021 Rally Point!

May’s Rally Point features discussions with U.S. Air Force Veteran Richard Murphy, and U.S. Army Veteran Jon Jackson, the Executive Director of STAG VETS. Both organizations share similar goals — to aid Veterans in their transition from their military service to civilian life with agriculture. Agro-therapy is the conditioning of Veterans to their new normal.

The Storming of Ft. Wagner

Who was the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry Regiment?

The Storming of Ft. Wagner

On January 1, 1863, President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation went into effect granting African American men not only their freedom, but also the right to enlist in the armed services. By February, Governor John A. Andrew issued the first call to enlist African Americans in the Union military. Within two weeks, approximately 1,000 African American men enlisted in the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry regiment. They came from across the United States, to join the regiment even though the Confederacy had declared that any African American Union soldier captured would be sold into slavery. While the regiment was comprised entirely of African Americans, their commanding officers were white Americans such as Robert Gould Shaw. While reluctant to lead a regiment because he doubted they would see any combat, Shaw agreed and joined the 54th.

In July 1863, after asking for an opportunity to join the front lines, the 54th Infantry regiment joined the Second Battle of Fort Wagner. On July 18, Brigadier General George C. Strong asked Shaw to lead his men to charge forward and storm the ramparts of Fort Wagner. Shaw knew the charge was likely a suicide run. However, Shaw ordered his men to charge forward towards the fort. During the assault, approximately 280 out of 600 men from the 54th were killed including Shaw. Ultimately, the remaining members of the 54th were forced to retreat after realizing there were more Confederate soldiers than originally calculated. While the assault was not a military victory, it showed both Union and Confederate soldiers the bravery and determination of African American soldiers.

One notable story from the battle was that of Sergeant William H. Carney. During the battle, the regimental flag bearer was killed causing the American Flag to fall. Sergeant Carney immediately threw down his rifle and grabbed the flag, raising it high above the ground. Despite being shot during the assault, Sergeant Carney never let the flag fall again. He was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor in 1900 which was simply sent in the mail without an official ceremony.

The 1989 movie “Glory” brought the story of the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry regiment to the silver screen challenging the belief that the Civil War was fought by white soldiers. Staring Morgan Freeman, Andre Braugher, Matthew Broderick, and Denzel Washington, the movie is a reminder that approximately 200,000 African Americans valiantly fought against the Confederacy to end slavery. One of the main themes of the movie is overcoming one’s prejudice and preconceived notions regarding people based solely on the color of their skin. Throughout the movie, the 54th Infantry regiment is belittled and stereotyped by other white soldiers and officers. However, by the end of the movie, they are shown to be brave and driven men willing to put their lives on the line to win the war and end slavery.

Today marks the 158th anniversary of the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry regiment’s assault on Fort Wagner. Come explore our museum and visit our timeline to learn more about the Civil War and celebrate the African American Veterans of the 54th Infantry regiment.

Resources:

Fort Wagner: Battery Wagner, Morris Island. American Battlefield Trust. https://www.battlefields.org/learn/civil-war/battles/fort-wagner

History.com Editors. (2021, January 25). The 54th Massachusetts Infantry. HISTORY. https://www.history.com/topics/american-civil-war/the-54th-massachusetts-infantry

Klein, C. (2018, September 4). “Glory” Regiment Attacks Fort Wagner, 150 Years Ago: On the 150th anniversary of the bloody battle that inspired the movie “Glory,” take a look back at the all-black 54th Massachusetts Regiment. HISTORY. https://www.history.com/news/glory-regiment-attacks-fort-wagner-150-years-ago

Levin, K.M. (2020, September 14). Why ‘Glory’ Still Resonates More Than Three Decades Later. Smithsonian Magazine. https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/why-glory-still-resonates-more-three-decades-later-180975794/

Robert Gould Shaw. American Battlefield Trust. https://www.battlefields.org/learn/biographies/robert-gould-shaw

Zack, A. (2020, December 10). The 54th Massachusetts and the Second Battle of Fort Wagner. National Park Service. https://www.nps.gov/articles/the-54th-massachusetts-and-the-second-battle-of-fort-wagner.htm

World War II Pioneer: Lieutenant Colonel Harriet West Waddy, U.S. Army

Since the founding of the United States of America, women have served beside men both on and off the battlefield. The stories of many of these women remain mostly unknown, especially the stories of African American woman. Today, we are going to share the story Lieutenant Colonel Harriet West Waddy, a Veteran from World War II who served her country despite the blatant inequality that came with being both female and African American.

Lt. Colonel Harriet West Waddy, born in 1904, was reared by her maternal grandmother after her mother passed away. While not much is known about her life growing up, it is known that she graduated from Kansas State College of Agriculture and Applied Sciences. During the Great Depression, Waddy worked as the aide to Mary McLeod Bethune, the director of the National Youth Administration’s Division of Negro Affairs. However, when the United States entered World War II, Waddy decided to join the Women’s Auxiliary Army Corps – later renamed the Women’s Army Corps (WAC) – to serve her country and represent her fellow African Americans.

During World War II, approximately 6,500 African American women signed on with the Women’s Auxiliary Army Corps (WAC). Despite their willingness to serve, many were relegated to positions as glorified housekeepers. Waddy pushed forward and completed her Women’s Army Corps (WAC) training. Following graduation from The Adjutant General’s School of the Army, Waddy was placed in charge of 50 civilian typists. It was their responsibility to notify the families of soldiers who were killed, wounded, or missing in action. Waddy was promoted to the rank of Major in the WAC and was one of only two African American women to attain the rank of Major during the war. Her title was changed to Lt. Colonel once WAC became a part of the Army.

Waddy saw her role in WAC as an opportunity to take an active role in changing the status of African American women in the military and was appointed an advisor to the Army on racial issues. While many African Americans criticized her for remaining in the military, Waddy saw herself as fighting to help realize the ideal future. While visiting the WACs at Fort Des Moines, Iowa, Waddy took steps to try to eliminate references to white and colored from official memorandums on information boards. Her goal as an advisor was always to allow her fellow African American women an opportunity to show their abilities.

After her retirement in 1952, Waddy worked for the Federal Aviation Administration. During her lifetime, she married four times, but never had any children. Waddy enjoyed traveling and the freedom to move as she pleased. In 1999, at the age of 94, Harriet West Waddy died at a friend’s home in Las Vegas, Nevada.

To learn more about Veterans’ stories and more of what we are doing at the National Veterans Memorial and Museum to honor Women’s History month, visit nationalvmm.org. Thanks for reading and come back next week to read another blog as part of our Women’s History Month series.

Explore More Stories

Women in the Military

Women’s Equality Day

Celebrating Women’s History Month

World War II Pioneer: Dorothy Baroch

Veterans Portrait Project: Marilyn Cogswell

Saluting General Lloyd Austin III, U.S. Army (Retired)

As February comes to a close, we continue to celebrate the service, sacrifice and contributions African Americans have made to our United States Armed Forces. We began the month with historical Black American Veteran stories and with this final week, we share a 2021 story of history in the making.

Gen. Lloyd James Austin III, U.S. Army (Retired), last month was confirmed as our country’s first Black Secretary of Defense. Before his retirement in 2016, he served as head of the U.S. Central Command and commander of U.S. troops in Iraq where he oversaw Operation New Dawn.

Gen. Austin is no stranger to breaking barriers. His list for firsts as a Black military officer includes: first officer to command an infantry division in combat, first to head central command and the first African American to serve as vice chief of staff of the United States Army. In recognition of his significant accomplishments, Austin is quoted saying, “My goal is not to be the last.” 

Born in Mobile, Alabama, Gen. Austin graduated from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point and earned his master’s degree in business management from Webster University. During his forty-one years of military service, he was awarded numerous medals and ribbons including the Defense Distinguished Service Medal, Army Presidential Unit Citation, Legion of Merit, Joint Meritorious Unit Award, Global War on Terrorism Expeditionary Medal, Army Service Ribbon and the Humanitarian Service Medal, to name just a few.

Gen. Austin is a testament that hard work and dedication garners great reward. In his new role as Secretary of Defense, he is the leader and chief executive officer of the U.S. Department of Defense with command and authority over the military and is second only to the President of the United States, who is commander in chief. He exercises command and control of both operational and administrative purposes over the U.S. Army, Marine Corps, Navy, Air Force, and Space Force.

Austin recently tweeted, “It’s an honor and a privilege to serve as our country’s 28th secretary of defense, and I’m especially proud to be the first African American to hold the position.”

Thank you, Gen. Austin for your service and sacrifice and for our freedoms.

We recognize the fortitude and resilience Veterans of color have demonstrated during their military service and the military values they continue to uphold even in the face of obstacles and challenges. Their stories don’t just represent African American history – these are the stories of American history.

Explore More Stories

Honoring Black History Month

World War I Medal of Honor Recipient: Corporal Freddie Stowers

The Tuskegee Airmen at Selfridge Field, Michigan

The Tuskegee Airmen at Selfridge Field, Michigan | Images by Gordon Parks

In our ongoing celebration of Black History Month, we pay tribute to those men and women who were early driving forces in the fight for racial equality – both in the military and throughout our nation.  One such man, an artist and social activist named Gordon Parks, used his photography, filmmaking, and writing to shed light on the injustices experienced by African Americans and minorities in our country.  Park’s career in photojournalism began in the early 1940s and led him to work as the first black correspondent for the Office of War Information (active 1942-45). The OWI documented the U.S. War efforts during WWII by using photography, film, radio programing and a variety of other formats to connect American civilians to the battles overseas.

As one of his initial agency assignments, Parks photographed the first unit of primarily black military aviators who served in the U.S. Army Air Corps as part of the 332nd Fighter Group — the famed Tuskegee Airmen.  At the time, the fighter group was commanded by Colonel Benjamin O. Davis Jr., the first 20th century black officer to graduate from West Point who later became the first black Air Force general in U.S. history as well as the first African American to become a general in any branch of the U.S. Military.  While we know this legendary group of military aviators originally trained at the Tuskegee Army Airfield in Alabama, on March 29th, 1943, the 332nd Fighter Group was relocated to Selfridge Field, Michigan where Parks met and photographed these courageous and honorable servicemen.

P-40 in Line for Takeoff, Selfridge Field, Michigan, 1943

Conditions at Selfridge Field were difficult and varied greatly from Tuskegee, Alabama; not only in terms of climate and geography, but also training conditions and the harsh treatment these aviators faced at the training facility.  Selfridge Airfield was not built for the aircraft the Tuskegee Airmen used for training, adding to the arduousness of an already challenging job. Additionally, during this time Selfridge Field was particularly known for its discriminatory practices and for having a tense and deeply segregated atmosphere.  On May 5, 1943, tensions reached a breaking point when Colonel William Colman, who possessed a corrupt and prejudiced reputation amongst his fellow soldiers, was charged with shooting a black chauffeur assigned to drive him, Private William MacRae, after an argument wherein it emerged that Colonel Colman had ordered that he only be driven by white soldiers.  When Colman was court-martialed for the incident, Selfridge Field’s poor reputation among black soldiers was made public and the case prompted the U.S. Army to act swiftly, transferring the Tuskegee Airmen to Godman Field, Fort Knox, Kentucky.

Two Pilots, Selfridge Field, Michigan, 1943

While on assignment with the 332nd Fighter Group, Gordon Parks produced photographic essays which encapsulated the struggles, resiliency, and the immense pride of these servicemen during a period in American history when black servicemen fought not only for their country, but also for the equal rights and freedoms our country represented to the world.  Parks’ imagery expressed the humanity of the Tuskegee Airmen; that they were black soldiers yes, but also U.S. soldiers who were deserving of the same respect and honor given to their white counterparts.

Captain Knox, Selfridge Field, Michigan, 1943
Bill Walker, Selfridge Field, Michigan, 1943
Pilots Gambling, Selfridge Field, Michigan, 1943

In between producing his photographic essays, Parks would find himself in the company of the airmen – his new companions, playing cards and partaking in social activities on base.  During his time with the 332nd Fighter Group, Parks shared that the racism these servicemen faced was ultimately worse than what they would have received by our country’s enemies. He used his camera as his weapon against racism and intolerance and photographed the Tuskegee Airmen with a profound admiration of their mission and achievements.

The incredible feats and accomplishments of the Tuskegee Airmen were not fully recognized until years after WWII.  As a fighter group, the 332nd flew more than 15,000 individual sorties in North Africa and Europe during the war, earning them more than 150 Distinguished Flying Crosses, our nation’s second highest valor award.  Their perseverance and determinationpaved the way for the integration of the U.S. Armed Forces as signed by President Harry S. Truman on July 26, 1948. This executive order formally initiated the desegregating process of all United States military branches.  This crucial milestone in our country’s military history was achieved in large part thanks to the incredible efforts displayed by the Tuskegee Airmen.  Through Gordon Park’s images and writings, the legacy of the Tuskegee Airmen live on and will always serve as powerful reminders to the generations that followed of a time when our nation at war was also facing an internal battle – one for social change, representation, and equality.

332nd Fighter Group in Flight, Selfridge Field, Michigan, 1943

All images by Gordon Parks, courtesy of and copyright The Gordon Parks Foundation

Explore More Stories

Honoring Black History Month

World War I Medal of Honor Recipient: Corporal Freddie Stowers

Saluting General Lloyd Austin III, U.S. Army (Retired)

World War I Medal of Honor Recipient: Corporal Freddie Stowers

During World War I, thousands of African Americans joined the fight to defend their country. These heroes risked their lives for a country that refused to admit that they deserved the same equal opportunities and rights as their fellow white soldiers. Today we honor one of these heroes, Corporal Freddie Stowers.

Freddie Stowers was born on January 12, 1896 in Sandy Springs, South Carolina. Not much is recorded about his early personal life, but on October 4th, 1917, Stowers decided to join the First Provisional Infantry Regiment (Colored) as part of the 371st Infantry Regiment. This regiment first organized on August 31, 1917 at Camp Jackson, South Carolina. The first recruits were deployed in October 1917. Upon their arrival, they were placed under the command of white French officers and had to turn in all their American equipment for French equipment. At this time, France needed soldiers and the United States was only willing to give them their African American regiments which they saw as unequal to their white regiments. However, many African American regiments, such as the 371st Infantry Regiment, flourished under French control and proved they were just as skilled and determined as their fellow white soldiers. 

Freddie Stowers and his company were just one such story of the bravery of African American soldiers on the battlefield. While serving as squad leader of Company C of the 93rd Division, Stowers led an attack at Hill 188 in France. During the attack, the enemy ceased firing and raised their hands in surrender. This caused Company C to cease firing and approach the enemy trenches. However, as soon as Company C was within 100 meters, the enemy jumped back into their trenches and opened fire, raining down machine gun bullets and mortar fire upon the surprised Company C. However, Stowers did not let this deter him. He crawled toward the enemy trenches, bravely leading his men forward and together they took down the first enemy trench and destroyed the machine gun position. Despite heavy casualties, Stowers and his company pressed on towards the second trench. During the push, Stowers was mortally wounded, but he continued to push forward, encouraging his men to go forward without him until his final breath. His perseverance and motivation encouraged his troops to take the second enemy trench and capture Hill 188. Stowers died on September 28, 1918 and was laid to rest at the Meuse-Argonne American Cemetery & Memorial near the village of Romagne-sous-Montfaucon in France.

After his death, Stowers’ commanding officer recommended him for the Medal of Honor. However, the paperwork was misplaced, and Freddie Stowers’ sacrifice was left unrecognized. However, on April 24, 1991, Corporal Freddie Stowers finally was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor by President George H.W. Bush.

To learn more about African Americans who served our nation, head to our Black History Month page!

Explore More Stories

Honoring Black History Month

The Tuskegee Airmen at Selfridge Field, Michigan

Saluting General Lloyd Austin III, U.S. Army (Retired)

Siah Hulett Carter: USS Monitor Sailor

Siah Hulett Carter, given name Josiah Hulett, was born and grew up as a slave on the Shirley Plantation in Charles City, Virginia. The plantation was owned by Hill Carter, a Confederate Army Colonel during the war who would try to instill fear into his slaves with stories that any slaves who tried to escape to Union ships would have a piece of iron tied to their necks and be thrown overboard by the North’s sailors. Siah, correctly, ignored this story from his master and on May 18, 1862 escaped and paddled out to the USS Monitor. We are lucky that the Monitor’s Acting Paymaster, William Keeler, was a highly active letter writer to his wife. Keeler recorded the night that Siah came aboard, writing about the “poor trembling contraband” that rowed a boat out to them in the night, causing a warning shot and call to stations as the crew thought it was a Confederate boarding party. “O’ Lor’ Messa, oh don’t shoot, I’se a black man man Massa, I’se a black man,” Siah called out to them, Keeler wrote. Siah would be allowed to enlist at the rate of Ship’s Boy the next day and would assist the cook with his duties.

At this point in the war, the Fugitive Slave Act was still technically in effect, which required runaway slaves to have been returned to their masters if found. The Union military had no policy on the matter, but early in the war many slaves were often returned to their bondage. Some generals, such as General Benjamin Butler, refused to do so on the grounds that if the Confederates wanted to consider people property, then they would be confiscated as contraband of war and set free to hurt the Confederacies work force. Thus, the term contraband for escaped slaves was born. Siah’s rate of Ship’s Boy is a direct result of this policy, as the Navy quickly adopted a way enlist escaped slaves with useful skills, though the rate itself was the lowest in the Navy. The Act itself would not be officially repealed until 1864, though Union forces had stopped the returning altogether the year prior.

Not all slaves who made it to Union ships were granted the option to enlist, as one of the Monitor’s Engineers, George Geer wrote in June of 1862, “The conunterbands [sic] still come to us. While I am writing you we have two men and two women, all of them young, not over twenty two or three, in the Engine Room, drying their cloaths [sic] as it rains very hard. They came from a plantation some five miles up the river. As soon as it stops raining they will be put in their old boat and be sent away with the Captain’s advise [sic] to go home again…”

Photo Courtesy of U.S. Navy

Siah would serve on the USS Monitor until her sinking in a heavy storm on December 31, 1862. The extremely low freeboard of the ship caused it to take on water while being towed during a heavy storm, eventually be breached, and almost drug the USS Rhode Island that was towing it down with her. Siah would go on to serve on five other vessels: the USS Brandywine, Florida, Belmont, Wabash, and Commodore Barney. At some point he must have re-enlisted because his rate was given a Landsmen aboard the Florida, which was the rate typical for new members of the Navy.

Siah would suffer a frostbite wound that would have him honorably discharged on May 19, 1865, just a day over three years of service. After the war he married Eliza Tarrow, a fellow slave from Shirley Plantation, and they settled down in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania to have thirteen children. He worked as a laborer within the city and would eventually pass away in 1892, being buried in Eden Cemetery.

Resources:

Find a Grave. Siah Hulett Carter. Accessed from https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/177015319/siah-hulett-carter.

Fleming, Hannah. “Meet (a few) Monitor Crew.” The Mariners’ Museum and Park. February 15, 2017. Accessed from https://blog.marinersmuseum.org/2017/02/meet-monitor-crew/.

Gibson, James F. James River, Va. Sailors on deck of U.S.S. Monitor; cookstove at left, July 9, 1862, photograph. Library of Congress, accessed on February 2, 2021 from https://www.loc.gov/resource/cwp.4a39562/.

Mosteller, Roy A. “Siah Carter.” The United States Navy Memorial. Accessed February 2, 2021 from http://navylog.navymemorial.org/carter-siah.

Reidy, Joseph P. “Black Men in the Navy Blue During the Civil War.” Prologue Magazine, Fall 2001, (33), 3. National Archives. Accessed from https://www.archives.gov/publications/prologue/2001/fall/black-sailors-1.html.

The USS Monitor Center. “The Monitor’s Crew.” The Mariners’ Museum and Park. Accessed February 2, 2021 from https://monitorcenter.org/the-monitors-crew/.

Explore More Stories

USS Monitor: The First Union Ironclad

A Conversation with a Tuskegee Airman [Rally Point]

We welcomed Col. Harold Brown (Retired), one of the famed Tuskegee Airmen for our February 2021 Rally Point. Now in his 90s, Brown told his mother when he was in the sixth grade during segregation that he would become a military fighter pilot. In 1944 at age 19 he completed flight training at the Tuskegee Institute and graduated with his wings and a commission as a 2nd Lieutenant. Col. Brown will share his experience as a member of the Red Tailed Angels escorting bombers over Europe as well as being shot down and held as a POW in Germany. He and 25,000 other prisoners were rescued by forces led by Gen. George S. Patton on April 29, 1945.

About Rally Point:

Rally Point is a free, monthly event on the first Saturday of every month dedicated to connecting and educating Veterans, Veterans’ families, and those who wish to support Veterans. The programs focus on organizations and programs from which Veterans and their families directly benefit.

Honoring Black History Month

The National Veterans Memorial and Museum honors the service, bravery, sacrifice and achievements of African Americans in our armed forces. During Black History Month, we are sharing the experiences, challenges and triumphs of Black American Veterans by telling their stories.

Check back each week during February as we share a new story about Black Veterans — Crispus Attucks, the first American killed during the Revolutionary War; Harriet Tubman, a Union Army spy during the Civil War; the Tuskegee Airmen, Black Air Force pilots during WWII; the Buffalo Soldiers; the Harlem Hellfighters and countless more men and women of color – who served our country with courage, perseverance, and fortitude.

African American Veterans, fighting against foreign enemies as well as discrimination and segregation at home, have shown us bravery beyond measure and the ability to conquer incredible odds. This month and every month, we honor them for their service and thank them for our freedoms.

“Once let the black man get upon his person the brass letter, U.S., let him get an eagle on his button, and a musket on his shoulder and bullets in his pocket, there is no power on earth that can deny that he has earned the right to citizenship.”

Frederick Douglass

Explore More Stories

World War I Medal of Honor Recipient: Corporal Freddie Stowers

The Tuskegee Airmen at Selfridge Field, Michigan

Saluting General Lloyd Austin III, U.S. Army (Retired)

Inspiring Story of Service: Montel Williams

You may recognize Montel Williams as an Emmy-Award winning talk show host for 17 years. What you may not know is that he is a Veteran of both the U.S. Marine Corps and the U.S. Navy. In this candid video, Williams shares why he enlisted in the Marine Corps and how he overcame a devastating loss of sight in his left eye (later diagnosed as MS), just 12 weeks prior to graduating from the U.S. Naval Academy.

Today, Montel Williams says he will always wear the uniform. He remembers the discipline and sense of obligation instilled in him along with the opportunity to be part of something larger than himself. He advocates for the health and respect of our servicemen and women because he believes  they are the thread that holds us together. Our service members protect and defend our rights to be who we are as Americans.

WEDS-SUN 10 A.M. - 5 P.M.
Tickets