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February 27, 2022

Intimate Portraits of the Tuskegee Airmen at Air Base in Italy During WWII

The Tuskegee Airmen were a group of primarily African American military pilots and airmen who fought in World War II. They formed the 332d Expeditionary Operations Group and the 477th Bombardment Group of the United States Army Air Forces.

The 99th Pursuit Squadron (later the 99th Fighter Squadron) was the first black flying squadron, and the first to deploy overseas (to North Africa in April 1943, and later to Sicily and other parts of Italy). The 332nd Fighter Group, which originally included the 100th, 301st and 302nd Fighter Squadrons, was the first black flying group. It deployed to Italy in early 1944. Although the 477th Bombardment Group trained with North American B-25 Mitchell bombers, they never served in combat. In June 1944, the 332nd Fighter Group began flying heavy bomber escort missions and, in July 1944, with the addition of the 99th Fighter Squadron, it had four fighter squadrons.

Several Tuskegee airmen attending a briefing in Ramitelli, Italy, March 1945

The Tuskegee Airmen were the first African-American military aviators in the United States Armed Forces. During World War II, black Americans in many U.S. states were still subject to the Jim Crow laws and the American military was racially segregated, as was much of the federal government. The Tuskegee Airmen were subjected to discrimination, both within and outside of the army.

These intimate portraits were taken by Toni Frissell, a high-fashion photographer who volunteered her photographic services to the American Red Cross, Women's Army Corps, and Eighth Army Air Force during WWII. On volunteering for the American Red Cross in 1941, Frissell said: "I became so frustrated with fashions that I wanted to prove to myself that I could do a real reporting job." Take a look:

Members of the 332nd Fighter Group

Crew chief Marcellus G. Smith, Louisville, KY, 100th F.S.

A Tuskegee airman standing on an airfield, looking at airplanes

Sgt. William P. Bostic, 301st F.S. in control tower

Tuskegee airman Edward C. Gleed, Lawrence, KS, Class 42-K, with an unidentified crewman adjusting an external seventy-five gallon drop tank on the wing of a P-5/D, "Creamer's Dream."

Pilot Newman C. scanning the skies, with parachute room in background

A Tuskegee airman sitting on top of an airplane, a P-5D, Creamer's Dream airplane in the background

Goats on runway

Edward C. Gleed, Tuskegee pilot, standing, three-quarter length portrait

Several Tuskegee airmen attending a briefing

Toni Frissell with Major George S. "Spanky" Roberts

Edward C. Gleed and two Tuskegee airmen

Members of the 332nd Fighter Group attending a briefing

Col. Benjamin O. Davis presenting war bond for best kept A/C

Three Tuskegee airmen looking skyward

Four P-51 Mustangs flying in formation

Tuskegee airmen exiting the parachute room

Tuskegee airman Edward M. Thomas of Chicago, IL, Class 43-J.

Members of the 332nd Fighter Group in a briefing room

Tuskegee airmen Woodrow W. Crockett and Edward C. Gleed

Tuskegee airmen Marcellus G. Smith and Roscoe C. Brown

"Escape kits" (cyanide) being distributed to fighter pilots

Tuskegee airmen Roscoe C. Brown, Marcellus G. Smith, and Benjamin O. Davis

Tuskegee airmen attending a briefing

Tuskegee airmen playing cards in the officers' club in the evening

(via Library of Congress)


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