World War II pilots share experiences of America's
first African-American fighter squadron
SEATTLE, May 17, 2010
--A special panel of World War II Tuskegee Airmen veterans will be at the Museum to talk about their experiences flying combat missions during the War. The panel will be moderated by local Tuskegee Airmen and former fighter pilot, Lt. Col. Bill Holloman III. Panelists include 2nd Lt. William M. Wheeler, who flew bomber escort missions over Germany, Yugoslavia, Hungary, Albania and Greece; Lt. Col. Bob Friend, who was the Combat Operations Officer for the Tuskegee Airmen's 332nd Fighter Group; and Lt. Col. Leo R. Gray, who flew combat missions flying P-51s based in Italy. The May 30 program is at 2 p.m. in the William M. Allen Theater, and is free with admission to the Museum.
Lt. Col. Bill Holloman III
The moderator for the panel, Lt. Col. Bill Holloman, III flew "Red Tail" P-51s with the 332nd Fighter Group in World War II - the famed Tuskegee Airmen. He continued flying during the Korean War and Vietnam, and he was the first black helicopter pilot in the Air Force.
2nd Lt. William M. Wheeler
Wheeler flew P-51 combat missions to Germany, Yugoslavia, Hungary, Albania and Greece, escorting allied bombers and strafing enemy troops, vehicles and airfields. He was credited with destroying three bombers on strafing missions: two Heinkel HE-111s and a Junkers JU-52.
After returning to the U.S. in August 1945, Lt. Wheeler worked for Data Digests, Inc., a major international financial publishing company, eventually becoming Vice President of Production and Distribution. In the 1970s, he worked as a Methods and Procedures Analyst on the A-10 and space shuttle projects at Fairchild Republic Company's Farmingdale, N.Y. plant. He retired from the business world in 1991, and in 1999, began participating in The Tuskegee Airmen's Speakers Bureau. He makes many presentations throughout the country in many different venues each year on his favorite subject--the Tuskegee Airmen story.
Lt. Col. Leo R. Gray
During World War II Gray was stationed in Italy as a fighter pilot, flying 15 combat missions in P-51s for a total of 750 hours flying time. He left active duty in 1946, remaining in the U.S.A.F. reserves until 1984. During his 41 years of military service Gray earned a Coveted Air Medal with One Oak Leaf Cluster, and a Presidential Unit Citation.
Gray began a 30-year career with the Unites States Department of Agriculture in 1953. During his work there, he combined his expertise as an economist and agricultural economist in many programs. He was also an economic consultant to the USDA in West Africa. He became a member of the Tuskegee Airmen, Inc. in 1991.
Lt. Col. Bob Friend
Friend was assigned to the 332nd Fighter Group stationed in Europe, as Combat Operations Officer at the Squadron and Group levels. In this capacity he was responsible for planning and organizing the implementation of strategic and tactical air missions.
Following the War, Friend continued a technical career with the Air Force. His worked on major programs including service as Assistant Deputy of Launch Vehicles including Titan, Atlas, Delta and space shuttle. As Foreign Technology Program Director he monitored and reported upon foreign research and development programs to support development of systems to offset foreign capabilities posing a potential threat to the national security of the U.S. He was also the Director of the Unidentified Aerial Phenomena Program, which investigated cases of Unidentified Flying Objects brought to the attention of the Air Force.
The Tuskegee Airmen
The Tuskegee Airmen were young African-American men who enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Corps during World War II to become America's first black military airmen. Those who became single-engine or multi-engine pilots were trained at Tuskegee Army Air Field (TAAF) in Tuskegee, Alabama. From 1941 through 1946, 996 pilots graduated at TAAF, receiving commissions and pilot wings. Black navigators, bombardiers and gunnery crews were trained at selected military bases elsewhere in the United States. Mechanics were trained at Chanute Air Base in Rantoul, Illinois until facilities were in place in 1942 at TAAF.
Of the pilots who were trained at TAAF, 450 served overseas in either the 99th Pursuit Squadron (later the 99th Fighter Squadron) or the 332nd Fighter Group. The 99th Fighter Squadron trained in and flew P-40 Warhawk aircraft in combat in North Africa, Sicily and Italy from April 1943 until July 1944 when they were transferred to the 332nd Fighter Group in the 15th Air Force.
Photo: Lt. Col. Bill Holloman III as a World War II combat pilot in a P-51. Photo courtesy Bill Holloman.
The non-profit Museum of Flight is one of the largest independent air and space museums in the world. The Museum's collection includes more than 150 historically significant air- and spacecraft, as well as the William E. Boeing Red Barn® - the original manufacturing facility of the Boeing Co. The J. Elroy McCaw Personal Courage Wing displays 28 World War I and World War II aircraft from the United States and other countries including Germany, Russia, and Japan. Over 30 aircraft representing the first century of aviation are displayed in the all-glass T.A. Wilson Great Gallery. The evolution of space flight and a look into the future are presented in the exhibit, Space: Exploring the New Frontier. The Airpark includes outdoor displays including the first jet Air Force One, a supersonic Concorde airliner and the prototype Boeing 747 jumbo jet. Interactive displays in The Flight Zone provide educational and entertaining activities for young children. The Museum's aeronautical library and archival holdings are the largest on the West Coast. More than 140,000 students are served annually by the Museum's on-site and outreach educational programs--the most extensive museum-based youth aviation and space education program in the country. The Museum is the only air and space museum in Washington State that is both nationally accredited with the American Association of Museums and a Smithsonian affiliate.
The Museum of Flight is located at 9404 E. Marginal Way S., Seattle, Exit 158 off Interstate 5 on Boeing Field half-way between downtown Seattle and Sea-Tac Airport. The Museum is open daily from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Admission is $15 for adults, $13 for seniors 65 and older, $10 for active military, $8 for youth 5 to 17, and free for children under 5. Group rates are available. Admission on the first Thursday of the month is free from 5 to 9 p.m. courtesy of Wells Fargo. For general Museum information, please call 206-764-5720 or visit www.museumofflight.org.