Air Force officials from the Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada, will be on hand to mark the 60th anniversary of the Tuskegee Airmen’s victory at the first (1949) United States Air Force National Fighter Gunnery Competition, Thursday, 5 p.m., in Salon G of the Palace Station Hotel. This event will also mark the start of the 38th Annual Tuskegee Airmen Convention (August 6-9, 2009).
In 1949, the 10-day competition was held at what was then-Las Vegas Air Force Base. Nearly all fighter groups in the continental United States participated with an aim to hone America’s military pilot’s skills in their collective pursuit of aviation excellence. Shooting it out for top honors, Top Guns were named in two categories – Group and Individual. When the score were tallied, Tuskegee Airmen, flying for the 332nd Fighter Group in P-47N, were tops in the group and Lt. Alva Temple, one of four pilots from the 332nd Fighter Group placed second in the individual category.
As times were then, racial challenges abounded for members of the 332nd. Despite their impressive record during World War II, where the highly decorated group remains among the best fighter escort organization perhaps in the history of aerial combat, its fighter pilots were considered “poor marksmen” by their American counterparts because the unit had no “documented” Aces, despite eye-witness reports to the contrary. For years, official accounts of the 1949 competition had no mention of the Tuskegee Airmen as winners or participants.
During the 1949 National Fighter Gunnery Competition, the 332nd pilots, maintenance workers and support personnel were removed from Flamingo Hotel (on the Strip) simply because they were African Americans. It was only after winning the “Top-Gun” competition and with the full weight of the new U.S. Air Force behind them that the Tuskegee Airmen were allowed back into the hotel for the awards ceremony. Two months later, the U.S. Armed Forces was desegregated.
Lt. James Harvey, now a resident of Montclair, New Jersey, and Master Sergeant Buford Johnson, the 1949 team maintenance chief and now a reside of Longview, Texas, will be in attendance at Thursday evening’s ceremony at the Palace Station Hotel (Salon G).
Media representatives wishing to cover the event should RSVP by 4 p.m., Thursday, August 6, 2009 by calling (951) 961.2301 or send an email to: firstname.lastname@example.org.