This interview was transcribed from a presentation given by Mr. Baugh at a Midlothian, Virginia church in the spring of 2008.Mr. Baugh died on August 23, 2008 at the age of 88.

 

Mr. Baugh: I understand you have an unusually high turn out today and I appreciate it. First thing Iíll do is explain the red jacket. We were in the 15th Air Force and our mission was escorting B-17s and B-24s in the 15th Air Force. There were 7 fighter groups assigned to escort the bombers and protect them from enemy fighters. Each one of the fighters had their tail assembly painted a different color so that the bomber crews could recognize them in flight. The tail assembly on our plane was red so the red jackets represent the red tails. A little fingernail polish on this tie tack which is P-51 also makes it a red P-51.

Prior to 1941, there were no African Americans in the Army Air Corp.There were African American units, segregated of course, in all the armed forces, but none in the Army Air Corp itself. And those segregated units themselves had white officers, mostly because it was thought that African Americans didnít have any qualities of leadership.Also that African Americans would not follow the orders of other African Americans, so they had white officers. If there were any black officers in the unit they always had a higher ranking white officer over them. In 1925 the Army War Collage completed a staff study that was conducted to determine how African Americans could be utilized in the armed forces. This was in spite of the fact of the experience of having [had] African Americans participate in all of the Americaís wars right from the revolutionary war.[They were] still, in the middle of the 1920ís, trying to figure out how to use us. They concluded that we were best suited for subservient jobs, jobs that didnít require much intelligence because we didnít have intelligence and that our brains were 1/3rd smaller than that of whites. They considered us a sub-species of the human race, that we were guided in our life by superstition. [They thought] that we were cowards, and that we wouldnít fight and a lot of other of these derogatory comments and conclusions, nothing complimentary. And it went without saying that we certainly didnít have what it took to operate a machine as complicated as a plane. Of course there was a lot of opposition to that kind of thinkingin the policy of excluding African American from military pilot training, The opposition was led by the NAACP, the Urban League, black press and citizens both black and white, including Mrs. Roosevelt.

In 1940 when President Roosevelt was running for his unprecedented 3rd term in office he directed the Army Air Corp to establish a program and a facility for training African Americans as military pilots. The first training started in January in 1941 at Chanute Air Force Base which was a technical training school. At Chanute the ground support people necessary to support a fighter squadron were trained in all the aspects of supporting the fighter squadron including air craft maintenance, engine maintenance, armors, radio technicians, all kinds of things needed for the squadron. The first pilot training class started at Tuskegee Institute in July of 1941. There were 13 people in the class; one of them was captain at that time, B.O. Davis Jr., who had completed West Point in 1936. The other 12 were right out of civilian life, and they were aviation cadets. In March of 1942 that class graduated, but only 5 of them successfully completed the program. A lot of people think that is unusual that so many people were eliminated, but that wasnít unusual. Learning to fly the military way, the way the military wants you to do it, is difficult, thereís nothing easy about it. Learning to fly in the military service is different from learning to fly in civilian life. In civilian life you go to a civilian pilot training school and you pay your money, 75 or 100 or more dollars an hour, for instruction in flying. As long as you pay your money they will work with you. There is no elimination the only way to be eliminated is stop paying. In the military service you are being paid to learn to fly all the things necessary for you to live: clothing, food, medical, all kinds of housing everything is supplied to you. If you are not a quick study youíre eliminated. In my class we started with out with 20 cadets and only 4 of us graduated. Only 9 of us solo.

 

A lot of people think people were washed out because they were African Americans, by white instructors. If you saw the movie they didnít show that in our primary phase of training, our instructors were African American civilian contract pilots. They did not wash people out because they were black. Our instructors were black. They wanted to get them through. And I always felt all of my instructors wanted to get me through. And the instructor teaching the cadets to fly and before he solos can not get out of the airplane, and let the cadet have the airplane, unless heís pretty confident heís not gonna kill himself. And until the cadet demonstrates that he can adequately handle the airplane, the instructor can not let him solo and only nine in my class of 20 solo and only 4 of us finished in the end. After the 5 graduated in March of 1942 every 5 weeks after that other classes finished their training and by September of 1942 we had enough trained pilots and trained ground support people, all black, to form the 99th Fighter Squadron combat ready; ready to go over seas. The 99th Fighter Squadron was flying at the time the P-40. That picture thatís going around with me on it is the picture of the P-40; itís the same airplane the Flying Tigers flew in China. But after they were combat ready in September of 1942 they found out that the overseas theater commanders didnít want a black squadron in their theater of operation so they had to stay at Tuskegee and continue to fly their P-40 until April of 1943 before they shipped out of New York. They shipped out to Casablanca and their first duty station was in Tunis in Northern Africa. They were attached to another fighter group that was there, white of course. The 33rd Fighter Group that was commanded by Colonel William OíMeyer nicknamed Spike. At that time he was the youngest full colonel in the Air Corps. Colonel OíMeyer did not want this black fighter squad on his base and he wrote discouraging reports to the high headquarters that finally reached Washington and those of you who saw the movie, would recognize that our squadron commander had to come back to the states and appear before a Congressional Investigating Committee to justify our staying in combat. After we moved the Germans out of Southern Sicily, the 33rd Fighter Group along with the 99th moved to Southern Sicily and thatís where I joined the group in 1943. After we moved the Germans out of Sicily altogether, the 99th and 33rd moved up to Northern Sicily, but it happened that the 99th had its own airfield, which was just a bulldozed strip right through some farm land. We covered the beach-head landing at Salerno. As we moved the Germans up north in Italy we moved up to Naples to a base called Capodichino. There we were attached to the 79th Fighter Group, of course that was white also. The commander was Colonel Earl Bates who gave us no problems. He welcomed us, he came around to see us at our place, course squadrons were stationed at different places around the base, but each squadron had its own area, so we had our own area also. We got along very well with them; we had no more trouble with group commanders. Although it was thought that we couldnít fly, and trying to teach African Americans to fly was going to be a failure. In fact some people called it an experiment that they expected to fail and they thought that it was a big waste of millions of dollars, the success rate at Tuskegee was such that they were able to supply enough pilots and ground support people to form 3 more squadrons in their 332nd Fighter Group. The 332nd Fighter Group came overseas in January of 1944; they were stationed on the same base that we were at Naples. They were stationed on one side of the field and we were sill with the 79th Fighter Group; we had different missions. Our mission at that time was close support work for our ground forces, to soften up the enemy immediately in front of our front line so that our ground forces could move forward. There mission was shore patrol. We were flying P-40s and they were flying P-39s. P-39 was a peculiar airplane, strange flying characteristics; the engine was behind the pilot, the drive shaft to the propeller went between the pilotís legs. The drive shaft had a 33mm cannon shooting through the nose of the propeller. They were doing coastal patrols looking for German airplanes, protecting Naples harbor, looking for submarines in the Mediterranean while we were still dive-bombing and strafing in close support of our ground forces.

 

††††††††††† It was decided in the Spring of 1944 that the 15th Air Force, on the east coast of Italy, needed more fighter planes to protect their bombers, and I was decided that the 99th Fighter Squadron should be combined with the 332nd fighter group and make one large group with 4 squadrons. The standard was 3 we were the only group over there with 4 squadrons, but being black we all had to be together. They assigned us to an air base just North of Fosheia, called Ramatelli. At Ramatelli we had about 100 pilots and about that many airplanes. On this airbase we had just one landing strip. All the support people and all the pilots assigned to that base were black. We had no whites assigned to that base at all. We first started flying escort for the bombers. The bomber crews had no clue that those people flying the Red Tail 51s were African Americans. We were sitting out from the bombers and of course we had oxygen masks on and helmets and goggles and all those kinds of things, and they couldnít see what kind of face was behind all that equipment. When they did finally hear the rumor that they had African Americans flying the airplanes, they didnít believe it. They knew there were no African Americans flying airplanes. But when they did find out later on they recognized that we didnít leave the bombers to chase enemy aircraft for personal glory. We stayed with the bombers and protected them. And I was told that we never lost a bomber to the enemy when we were escorting them. So later on Iím told that they began to ask for our escorts. I wasnít there at the time when all of that happened because I had flown in more than my fair share of missions, and I had come back to the states 8 months before the war was over.

 

††††††††††† We shot down about 150 German airplanes in the air, and destroyed another 250 on the ground. We were awarded 150 distinguished flying crosses, 750 or so air medals and a few other medals. Some of our people even got purple hearts, thankfully I didnít get one of those, and you know what they are for. 66 of our pilots were killed in combat; another 32 were either shot down or forced down in enemy territory and became prisoners of war. One of those prisoners of war came back to the states after the war was over and said that one of the questions that the German Intelligence Officer asked him was, ďWhy is it that you people fight so hard for a country that treats you so poorly?Ē

 

††††††††††† The treatment of African Americans in the United States was well known. I think the German Intelligence Officers knew more about us then we did. I donít know what that young manís answer was when he answered that question. He probably never gave it a thought and didnít have one on the top of his head. I donít think any of us questioned that we were doing anything unusual, anything that other Americans were not doing. We were citizens of the United States whether we were considered that or not. Some people considered us second-class citizens, but we just thought that we were fighting for our country. I doubt that any of us had ever been out of the country before. We were fighting for our country and where are families were that we were going back to. We hoped that we would survive the war.

 

††††††††††† I know two of the prisoners of war that are still living. They are up in Detroit and they tell me that they were treated better in the German prisoner of war camp than they were by Americans in uniforms overseas. The Germans did not segregate them. They were in a special camp for flyers, for bomber crews, for pilots, for RAF people exclusively. No ground force prisoners were in the camp at all. The camp was administered by Luftwaffe people, who evidently had respect for other aviators and they were treated well. They got Red Cross packages every week. One fellow in Detroit told me although he was a prisoner for 8 months he only lost five pounds. He didnít come out emaciated like we see on television and movies in other concentration camps or prisoners of war. Many of us thought that being overseas and fighting for freedom and democracy and equality all over the world; the plight of African Americans would have improved, only to find out when we got back that nothing had changed. One pilot said that the first thing he saw when he got off the gang-plank in New York was a sign that said ďcoloredĒ and ďwhiteĒ separated at the dock. The duty station that he was assigned to from there was at Fort Dix, New Jersey. He found there were places on the base that he couldnít go, facilities on the base that he could not use, just because he was black. But the German prisoners of war that we interned there could use those facilities and go in those places. There are a lot of stories about people who were assigned to different places right after the war, and how much better German prisoners of war were treated than African Americans both in and out of uniform. At Walterboro, South Carolina we had a training base for new pilot right out of Tuskegee. There they went to check out combat aircraft, the P-40s and P-39s. We had some of our combat veterans assigned there to teach them tactics and about the airplanes. The racism and discrimination was so bad there that 3 of them volunteered to go back to combat and take a chance on getting killed rather than stay in Walterboro. Iím told that on weekends the townspeople of Walterboro would come down and take German prisoners of war out for a night on the town. Being treated as guests in our country, these were the people that were killing our people and if they got back to Germany theyíd do it again. And they were killing mostly white people, because it was the whites that were in the combat units in the front lines and they suffered the most casualties. The African Americans were mostly quartermaster people and they were driving trucks and loading ships and unloading ships and moving supplies and things like that. Most of them were not in harms way; so they were killing white people. The Germans were being treated as guests in our country.

 

††††††††††† Back then there were segregated schools, separate water fountains, separate restrooms and public buildings. You couldnít go to restaurants and eat. You couldnít stay in hotels. Life was rough. More rough that anyone can image. Of course thatís all changed now. We had integrated schools and even churches. They said the 11 oíclock services were the most segregated hour because the blacks go to their churches and the whites go to white churches. Mostly, there were some churches that were integrated. I donít know why that was. Iím guessing some people just liked to worship together with their own kind. There are many forms of discrimination. Pope John Paul the Second said, ďAny form of discrimination is a sin against God, and man.Ē

 

††††††††††† Yesterday, when I was at the Defense Supply Center on Route 1 at Bellwood there was a female, Army full colonel, in the audience. I congratulated her. She was white but she was a full colonel. Back when I came along there were no women with high rank, you very seldom saw them higher than a Captain. Women are making great strides. In the 1800s women couldnít own property in the U.S. It wasnít until 1920 that women got to vote in the U.S. I donít know why that is. Women are as much on the ball as men. Some people think they are smarter than men, and maybe they are. Of course, in the Middle East women are discriminated more than the women in the United States. They canít drive automobiles and they canít go shopping without a male family member with them. I donít know why that is. If it wasnít for women none of us would me here. Believe me. We have had women command the space shuttle. It was a woman who did the mathematical calculations to put the first man on the moon. I was down at the Huston space Center and I met 5 African American astronauts in training, three of them were young women. One had a PhD in electrical engineering and the other two had PhDs in aeronautical engineering. I just read an article in one of the weekly news magazines this week about women flying helicopters in Iraq in combat, with a complete female crew. I spent 24 hours on the aircraft carrier the Enterprise, where female pilots were qualifying for deck landings in the F-18 and the F-14. Women can do anything, maybe not as strong or fast, but they can do anything a man can do. Plus many things men cannot do.†††

 

††††††††††† Iím going to close with these thoughts. If ordinary people are given proper training and opportunity they can do extraordinary things, regardless of race, creed or color. And unless you personally get to know people of other races, religions or ethnic groups it is easy for you to believe ugly things about them. And those things are frightening. Once you do get to know the people, who you are working with and come in contact with, you will find that the differences are few, mostly superficial and insignificant. After a while, your thoughts about the differences will disappear. Thirdly, racism starts in the home; it is spread in the work places, in neighborhoods and the schools. It is perpetuated by people who tolerate it.

 

Question: Would you comment on the transition to desegregated armed forces?

 

Yeah, that happened in 1948, with Executive Order 9981. The transition of desegregation was very slow. Many commanders felt that they werenít going to follow that order and many said, as long as Iím commander on this base, things will be separated. When the Inspector Generals came along they moved some of the base commanders because that took place. As late as 1953 I was being assigned from overseas to a base in Sacramento, California at McClowen Air Force base, it was a small unit, about 100 people and I was a major at the time I was going to be the commander of that unit. Word got to the unit before we got there, that they were going to have a black commander. Some of the people went to the commander and requested transfer before I got there because they didnít want to serve under a black commander. They prejudged me. They didnít know me. But they didnít want any part of me. I stayed there 4 and a half years. Some people moved out before I got there and their names were given to me. There were no African Americans in the unit except me, I was the only one there in 4 and a half years. But, while I was there no one requested transfer. We got along well after they got to know me.

 

Question: Which model of the P-51 did you get to fly? And can you comment on the experience?

 

The P-51 was probably the best fighter in WW2. I flew the C-model and the D-model. The D-model has a bubble canopy and the C-model has the straight back canopy. It was a much better airplane than the P-40. The P-40 was not a supercharged engine. It had an Alison engine in it. And the first 51s had Alison engines in them also, but when they put the Rolls-Royce Merlin engines in them and supercharged it, it had a lot more power and could go a much higher altitude and it was much faster. It was all around a better plane. We carried 2 drop-tanks at 75 gallons each, normally. For one mission we had 150-gallon tanks for a long mission to Berlin and back, which is the longest mission the 15th air force ever flew. It would go high; I had one up to 38,000 feet once. I was chasing an FW-190, but then a P-38 got between me and the German, so I let him go off and I donít know if he caught it, but itís doubtful. They were both that high too, but at 38,000 feet with no pressurization thatís high enough. Itís also pretty cold up there too; the heaters in those planes were inadequate.

 

Question: During WW2 the policy of letting bomber pilots go back to the states and rotate after 25 missions was in effect. Was that the same policy with the fighter pilots? Especially concerning the Tuskegee Airmen?

 

No, that was a policy but it didnít always happen. When the 8th air force, who had it worse than the 15th air force (when concerned with the German opposition), if they survived 25 missions their crews did come back to the states. In the 15th air force it was 50 missions. For the fighter pilots in the 12th air force it was 50 missions. You canít rotate people to deplete your squadronís strength. You have to maintain enough pilots to continue to operate. And the excuse given to me after my 50 missions was; we need you here to lead the younger pilots and to maintain the pilotís strength. So I stayed, and thatís how I got to fly 135 missions.

 

Question: Can you comment about your 1998 flight with the Blue Angels?

 

I had a nephew on my wifeís side thatís an engineer and works down at the naval station in Jackson where they do depo-matinence. And they do the maintenance on the F-18s of the Blue Angels. And he made arrangements for me to get a ride in the back of an F-18 that the Blue Angels fly. They had one 2-seat airplane. I went out to central California in 1998, where the Blue Angels do their winter training, and I got to ride in their 2-seat airplane. The pilot went straight down the runway and went up and took off the landing gear and went straight up to 10,000 feet. He let me fly the airplane once we were up in the air and I got to do some acrobatics. While he was flying he pushed the throttle up and got to .97; which is just a bit slower than the speed of sound. He couldnít break the speed of sound over land because thatís illegal. To break it you have to be at least 20 miles off shore. We stayed over the desert. That was quite a thrill. The controls in the airplane were very much like the jets I had flown on active duty. So with him taking care of all the systems all I had to do was man the controls. So I was able to do loops and rolls and things like that.

 

Question: When you were flying a mission how did you know that the enemy was approaching? Was it by sight or instrument? And once you saw them approaching what strategy did you have?

 

The only time I was flying and I had enemy aircraft approaching I was with 8 other air planes and we were patrolling in an elliptical pattern to prevent enemy infiltration. The ground controllers called us on the radio and told us that there was enemy aircraft coming in at high altitudes. We were flying P-40s and we couldnít go at high altitudes, they came in to dive bomb the shipping, then they made a tactical error, in stead of zooming with extra speed back to high altitudes, where we couldnít reach them, they went right back down on the ground. They were 50 or 100 feet off the ground, under us, and that was their mistake. We dropped our extra fuel tanks, sped up right behind them, and pulled the trigger. Of course, he decelerated when he neared the ground. I didnít see any fire. And I was going 354 miles an hour and I just zoomed over him and I donít know whether the airplane burned or not. I never looked back. The only thing I looked for was to see if anyone was on my tail, but there wasnít. In about 3 days of doing that they lost 17 airplanes and we lost none. But other than that in all my missions I never saw another German aircraft in the air. It was rare for us to see other German aircraft in the air. Most of the fighter aces of WW2 in the European theater were from the 8th Air Force flying out of England over Germany to protect the homeland. Very few fighter pilots in the 15th Air Force shot down airplanes.

 

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