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Keesler Played Key Role in Training African-American Aviation Mechanics

By Rhonda Miller | Published 02 Feb 2012 11:30pm | comments
Air crew men at Keesler Air Force Base. (Photo Credit: Keesler AFB)

The movie Red Tails highlights the heroic efforts of the first black military aviators in the U.S. armed forces.  In recognition of Black History Month, MPB’s Rhonda Miller reports on how Mississippi’s Keesler Air Force Base played a significant role with the Tuskegee Airmen.

"...we would never find Negroes who could pass a pilot’s exam, make it through flight school, survive basic combat..."

The scene from the Red Tails movie tells of the skill of the Tuskegee Airmen.

"The Tuskegee Airman have a much larger legacy."

 That’s Keesler Air Force Base Commander Andy Mueller at a Thursday luncheon to celebrate Black History Month.

"They came together under the umbrella of the 332nd Fighter Group, but the 332nd Fighter Group embodied aviation and engine mechanics, radio operators, airfield personnel, it embodied everything you need to make a fighter group operate," said Mueller.

That’s where Kessler comes in. Base Historian Susan Dawson says a photo tells the story.

"This is the first graduating class of African-American airplane mechanics, they graduated in 1944."

One Tuskegee Airman who began his training at Keesler in 1943, and came back later in his career, is the late Col. Lawrence Roberts, who has a building on base named in his honor.  Roberts’ daughter, Dorothy Roberts McEwen of Long Beach, saw her father's character inspire others.

"Coming into Biloxi, during the time he came to Biloxi, was a time of great racial strife for our country and  I think the message he sent to us, and he gave to other people, was to move through those differences, that people might have about a person," said McEwen.

"Now there is no difference." Seventy-three year old retired Chief Master Sargent Charles Bowers is president of the Lawrence E. Roberts chapter of Tuskegee Airmen at Keesler. "The military has been one of the main forces of integrating people together and making them all think as one. "

And that’s how they stand on this day at Keesler, 200 men and women of all ages and races, singing, as one:  "Let us march on 'til victory is won."







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