SNCOA honors Tuskegee Airman
Retired Lt. Col. Herbert "Gene" Carter, one of the original Tuskegee Airmen, who flew in the famous Red Tail squadron during WWII, signs personal items and memorabilia after the ceremony. (Air Force photo by Bud Hancock)
SNCOA honors Tuskegee Airman

by Rebecca Burylo
Air University Public Affairs

10/12/2012 - MAXWELL AIR FORCE BASE, GUNTER ANNEX, Ala. -- Blasting down German fighters from the air, retired Lt. Col. Herbert "Gene" E. Carter and the infamous Red Tail squadron members of the Tuskegee Airmen not only dismissed the myth that African-Americans could not fly, they broke the barriers of discrimination within the United States society and military during World War II.

Carter and his late wife, Mildred Carter, the first black rated female pilot in Alabama, were honored with accolades and a video presentation during a ceremony Oct. 2 at Gunter Annex's Senior Noncommissioned Officer Academy for their contributions to aviation, education and equal opportunity within the Air Force.

Before Carter pioneered the way for African-Americans to fly in the military, he never knew the turn his life would take upon entering the Tuskegee Airmen Cadet Training program.

"I wanted to be a pilot for a completely different reason than the Air Corps," said Carter. "At Tuskegee, I was majoring in animal science. My plan was to finish and take veterinary medicine. I would get my private license, go out to Texas, and practice my veterinary medicine flying from ranch to ranch tending the animals. I did not know that the Air Corps was going to bite me. The pleasure that I got out of flying with the Air Corps made me volunteer for regular service, and I stayed in for 27 years."

During those 27 years of service, Carter had to combat discrimination at every turn. In the 1940s, African-Americans were prohibited to serve in combative areas of the Army Air Corps. Solely based on their race, African-Americans were deemed unfit both physically and mentally to fly something as complex as an aircraft. This, however, did not stop Carter.

"That was not only an insult," said Carter. "That was a dare. It was the fact that we had been told that we did not have the smarts or the ability to operate something as complicated as an aircraft."

Taking the dare, Carter obtained his private flying license while enrolled in Tuskegee Institute.

He began his career in the Air Corps in a non-combative position oversees within the 99th Fighter Squadron, which later became known as the Tuskegee Airmen.

With the increased need for tactical support over North Africa in 1943, Carter and his squadron aided in close tactical ground support of the Allied army flying the Curtiss P-40 "Warhawk," the Republic P-47 "Thunderbolt" and the P-51, which they painted the tail a bright red, giving the 332nd Fighter Group the name "Red Tails". They destroyed 250 enemy aircraft on the ground and 150 in air-to-air combat.

Carter served America's military, flying 77 operational combat missions and 200 tactical air-ground Allied support missions over North Africa; Sicily, Italy; and southern Europe.

Fellow original Tuskegee Airman George Hardy was only 19 when he flew alongside Carter as part of the Red Tails, and he remembers the time when segregation began to disappear within the military.

"I was in there with segregation and when desegregation took effect in 1949," said Hardy. "There were some bumps in the road during that period, but then it seemed like things worked out where we had equal opportunity where the service was concerned."

The ceremony closed with the donation of a check for $1,000 to the Tuskegee Airmen Scholarship Fund from AFSNCOA class 12E on behalf of Carter and his wife. With a wavering voice, Carter extended his appreciation to the class and left them with final words of encouragement.

"Thank you, thank you so much ... to all of you for sharing an afternoon. It will never be forgotten," he said. "God bless you, keep you. And remember forever, the love for your brother is the greatest thing you could do while you're on this earth."