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Air Force cadets meet a Tuskegee Airman

Tuskegee Airman

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Ret. Lt. Col. Alexander Jefferson spoke campus on January 26

U.S. Air Force Ret. Lt. Col. Alexander Jefferson, one of the original Tuskegee Airmen, came to campus on January 26 to share memories about flying and fighting during World War II and standing up to discrimination in the military and his home country.

Jefferson is the author of "Red Tail Captured, Red Tail Free: The Memoirs of a Tuskegee Airman and P.O.W.," an account of the years he served in the 332nd “Red Tail” Fighter Pilot squadron of the U.S. Air Force after the military ban against black pilots was lifted in 1940.

The next year, an all African-American pursuit squadron was assembled and trained at a base in Tuskegee, Ala. The pilots became known as Tuskegee Airmen in honor of the base and “Red Tails” in honor of the vivid ruby paint jobs on the tails of their aircraft.

As a Tuskegee Airman, Jefferson was shot down over Italy and captured by Nazi soldiers. Portions of his life story are embodied in the character “Junior” in the movie “Red Tails,” which was released nationwide last month. The film focuses on Tuskegee Airmen winning permission to do aerial combat and their success in escorting bomber planes in and out of enemy territory. The movie was produced by George Lucas (Star Wars) and written by John Ridley (Three Kings) and Aaron Macgruder.

Jefferson encouraged the audience of about UH audience of about 300 to see the movie and to remember: “One movie can’t tell our entire story.” He admonished the assembled students – including an African American Studies class, Yates High School students and UH Charter School elementary students – to read history books and memorize facts about African American history.

“If we don’t teach our children our history, no one else will,” Jefferson said. His talk was sponsored by the University of Houston Alumni Association.

At the end of a question and answer session, Jefferson was thanked by Lt. Col. Aldru Aaron, commander of the Houston area Air Force ROTC, for his contributions to U.S. military history and presented with a commemorative medal.

The cadets and their instructors who accompanied Aaron to speech, then got a chance to speak with the living legend who has a bronze replica of the Congressional Gold Medal – the most prestigious honor Congress can bestow – that was awarded collectively to the Tuskegee Airmen collectively.