There have been major countries that have grown from a small obscure outpost of humanity to become world powers.  Rome started as a city state and expanded to control a vast part of the world.  This has been repeated throughout Europe, Asia and Mezs-America over thousands of years.  The countries were built for the most part by taking captured and downtrodden individuals and using them for forced labor.  They had mighty armies and for many empires the armies were eventually composed of soldiers from countries that had been captured and mercenary forces that were fighting for pay and not fighting for an ideal.  With few exceptions did the oppressed stand up and say “let me fight for this country for no other reason than to represent this great nation”.  One major exception is the United States of America.

In 1619 a Dutch ship arrived near Jamestown, Virginia with 19 captured slaves that had been taken from a Spanish slave ship.  Slavery entered the American landscape under the British government.  When the Constitution was signed, slavery was addressed and in 1808 Thomas Jefferson’s congress made the importation of slaves illegal.  Economics in the deep south of America ignored the law and slaves were smuggled into the country and slavery continued.  Atrocities were deplorable as the world had adopted a mentality that de-humanized slaves of any nationality or race.  Even after the abolition of slavery America continued a segregation policy that for the most part held the black man as an inferior race of human.  This stereotype followed the American Civil War and continued through the Spanish American War, World War I, the Great Depression and then into the beginning of World War II.

In 1941 America was thrust into a World War the likes of which had never been witnessed.  American’s flocked to recruiting offices.  One story tells of three men committing suicide after being declared 4F, unfit for induction into the military due to physical issues.  America was mobilizing the grandchildren of former slaves were right there raising their hands and pledging to protect the Constitution of the United States from all forces, foreign and domestic, and the orders of the officers placed over them, so help me god.

The United States Military was completely segregated.  The majority of the officers came from the white ranks as the blacks were not considered competent to become officers.  In World War I the leader of the American Expeditionary Forces in Europe was General Pershing.  He was known as “BlackJack” for being the leader of all black army unit that ultimately stormed San Juan Hill with Teddy Roosevelt in Cuba.  Still with past oppression, discrimination and segregation the black American entered World War II in defense of America.

In World War I African Americans had request to fly but were rejected.  This rejection ended in June of 1941when the 99th Pursuit Squadron was formed in Tuskegee, Alabama.  It was agreed that the African American units would be needed for the war effort and 47 officers and 429 enlisted men began training in the unit that would be nicknamed the Tuskegee Airmen.

These men wanted to serve their country and despite a tumultuous past they answered the call to duty.  After a couple of years training and being pigeon holed in Alabama the unit finally shipped out and actively entered the war in June of 1943.  Despite continued segregation a lack of respect for their position in the military, the Tuskegee Airmen quickly earned the respect of their Army Air Corpse.

The unit’s first mission was to attack a garrison on a small island that was key to the invasion of Sicily.  Eventually the entire garrison of 11,000 Italian soldiers surrendered without any Allied infantry forces being required; the first time such an action had taken place.

Their fame was great for escorting and protecting Allied Bombers on their missions into Europe.  For this reason they were assigned to escort bombers on a 1500 mile mission deep into Germany to destroy a major tank building complex.     This reputation was well deserved.  Out of 179 bomber escort mission, one seven missions had losses due to enemy aircraft.  A total of 27 aircraft were lost compared to an average of 46 lost by other units.  Impressively they shot down 112 enemy fighter planes to include 3 jets in one day and destroyed 600 rail cars on various train attacks.  The Tuskegee Airman provided the ultimate sacrifice as 68 airmen died in combat.

So what is the mystique that attracts young men and women to go and protect a country that had been so derogatory toward their part of society.  It has never been experienced in the history of the world and perhaps it resides not in the past but instead in the promise of a future.  We continue to see this today as people are breaking down the doors of America to live in the land where a person is allowed an opportunity to live in freedom and pursue a life without oppression.

We will continue this look at the American conscience and mystique over the next two weeks.



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