Commemorative Air Force Blogs

Welcome to the Commemorative Air Force Blogs. A great way to stay informed about what is going on with the CAF.

The CAF Red Tail Squadron is a volunteer-driven organization dedicated to educating audiences across the country about the history and legacy of the Tuskegee Airmen, America’s first black military pilots and their support personnel. Learn more at www.redtail.org.

Profiles of Tuskegee Airmen: William Holloman

The passion that fills one’s heart for aviation can be a powerful force. Since the age of four, William Holloman wanted to fly, and that lust for the freedom of the skies stayed with him until adulthood, leading him to a long and prosperous career in the military. His illustrious time in the service and the extremes of racism that he experienced fueled his volunteer service in retirement. He spent years educating as many people as he could about the history of the Tuskegee Airmen, inspiring them to identify and achieve their own lofty goals.

Holloman was born August 21, 1924 in St. Louis. Growing up, he was fascinated by airplanes. He was known to regularly walk two miles to a local airfield to watch the aircraft takeoff and land. He was hooked, and no amount of unjust racial stereotypes or discrimination was going to keep him out of the cockpit.

In August of 1942, Holloman completed his aviation cadet exam and began training to become what are known today as the Tuskegee Airmen. He graduated from training at Tuskegee and received his wings from the U.S. Air Corps in September of 1944. Assigned to the 99th Fighter Squadron, he flew 19 missions out of the segregated air base in Ramitelli, Italy in 1944 and 1945. Protecting bombers, strafing targets on the ground and engaging in fighter sweeps was done with great skill in his P-51. He went to war to serve his country, but to also fulfill his dream to be an airman, flying and fighting from the air.

He has said that he didn’t fully understand at the time how racist our country was when he was a young man, because growing up he didn’t feel the sting of that injustice until he was older. During the war, his fighter group was segregated in Ramitelli, the white bomber crews they were heralded for protecting stationed elsewhere. In an interview with Smithsonian’s Air & Space Magazine in 2007, Holloman remembers the significance of that separation.

“When we went to town, we had lots of contact with them. In Italy, we were all stationed separately but within 25 or 30 miles of each other. They embraced us when we went to town. They wouldn’t let us buy our own drinks. They were very friendly. We were all brothers in arms in a combat area,” he said. “Segregation didn’t show itself until we got back to American soil. You get off the boat, and it’s all right there. I don’t think that I really hated the social structure of the United States until I came back from Italy. It was kind of sad.”

After World War II, Holloman didn’t stop flying. He took jobs that included crop dusting in Central America and flying for a regional commercial airline in Canada. With the country drawn shortly after into the Korean War, Holloman was called back to service, attending airborne electronics school then becoming the first black helicopter pilot in the United States Air Force.

He was again activated in 1966 for the Vietnam War. He became a leading instrument examiner, check pilot and director of safety and standards. Holloman retired from the service as a Lieutenant Colonel in 1972, designated as a Master Aviator with 17,000 flight hours in military aircraft, an impressive feat at any standard. Listen to Holloman talk about his memories from his time as a pilot in an interview with the Planes of Fame Air Museum shortly before his passing.

After his four decades of service, Holloman dedicated much time and effort to speaking out and organizing events to bring attention to the history of the Tuskegee Airmen, who had little widespread recognition before the Hollywood adaptations of their story. Among many activities and appearances, he was active in the Tuskegee Airmen, Inc. organization, was a technical advisor for the film “Red Tails,” and provided a great deal of research assistance to the historical reference book The Tuskegee Airmen: An Illustrated History.

He also earned degrees in business administration from the University of Maryland and in history from the University of Washington. The Seattle area became his home, and he developed a very close relationship with their Museum of Flight. There he helped develop the museum’s Tuskegee Airmen exhibit and participated in numerous panels to educate people about the Tuskegee Airmen, veterans issues and the history of black Americans in the military. His original flight jacket is also proudly displayed in Seattle’s Northwest African American Museum.

CAF Red Tail Squadron P-51C Mustang pilot Alan Miller had the distinct pleasure of spending time with Holloman and enjoying his friendship for many years. Holloman was very close with original Tuskegee Airman Alexander Jefferson, both sharing details of their service and experiences as Tuskegee Airmen with Miller.

“Bill was the life of the party everywhere he went,” remembers Miller. “He and Alex were often found together, and now Alex speaks for both of them. He is carrying the torch to make sure others know about the amazing lives they and the other Tuskegee Airmen led, and how we can all learn from their experience.”

Holloman may have retired from the military, but in a sense he never stopped serving his country. His personal dedication to educating and inspiring others through the important history of the Tuskegee Airmen left an impact on the audiences he reached.

Holloman passed away in 2010, leaving behind his wife Adele and their six children and many grandchildren. Lt Col Holloman, we salute you for your service.

The CAF Red Tail Squadron is a volunteer-driven organization dedicated to educating audiences across the country about the history and legacy of the Tuskegee Airmen, America’s first black military pilots and their support personnel. Learn more at www.redtail.org.

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Monument set to honor resting place of brothers who were Tuskegee Airmen pilots

Among the family and friends laid to rest in the Alton, Illinois, town cemetery, war heroes and brothers George and Arnold Cisco hold a unique distinction, tucked away unnoticed for decades. They both served in World War II as part of the famed Tuskegee Airmen, our nation’s first black military pilots and their support personnel. After all these years, members of the Alton community want to ensure their service - and the mark it left on history - will be honored and remembered for future generations.

The Tuskegee Airmen Cisco Memorial Committee of Alton has been leading a crowdfunding campaign to commission an upright granite memorial to the men. Unfortunately, the obscure, flat gravestones that currently mark their resting place do not give any indication of their important service as Tuskegee Airmen. Their project aims to change that with a monument that will include their images and that of the infamous fighter aircraft they flew in the war, educating and inspiring people about the legendary Tuskegee Airmen.

Committee members include local residents Charlie Baird, United States Army veteran; Eugene Jones Baldwin, a researcher and interviewer in the Department of the Interior’s National Tuskegee Airmen Oral History Project; Lorenzo Small, nephew of George and Alton Cisco; and members and staff of the Alton Museum of History and Art.

“The Cisco brothers had remained relatively unknown for 70 years and it is well past time they got the recognition they deserve,” said Brian Combs, president of the Alton Museum of History and Art. “Our museum has labored a long time to preserve our community’s history and bring an appreciation to the stories and contributions of people like George and Arnold Cisco.”

Alton’s black heritage includes helping slaves find safety in their free state. Its proximity to the Mississippi River made it an important part of the Underground Railroad, and is part of nine such sites in the region. The graves of the Cisco brothers are near the tomb and monument of Elijah P. Lovejoy, an outspoken abolitionist who was a minister and owner of the Alton Observer. In 1847, Lovejoy was killed by a pro-slavery mob that destroyed his printing press in an attempt to hinder abolitionist writings.

The monument is expected to be unveiled June 3, 2017, although efforts are ongoing to raise the last of the funds needed to finish the project. Those interested in contributing can visit their crowdfunding site to learn more and make a donation. Honoring the Cisco brothers is an important step towards shining a light on an important and overlooked piece of local history.

To help educate the community about the Tuskegee Airmen and the Cisco Brothers, the Alton Museum of History and Art hosted a free screening of “In Their Own Words: The Tuskegee Airmen” in early March. Additional events and fanfare are planned to mark the unveiling of the monument in June, including another opportunity for the community to view the film.

George and Arnold Cisco were born in 1918 and 1920 respectively and raised in Jerseyville with their parents, Roscoe and Flora Cisco, and younger brother Harlow. The rural town was just 20 miles north of Alton. Their father was a well-known musician in the area, playing piano and teaching music.

The two brothers graduated with honors from Jerseyville High School and went on to earn degrees from the University of Illinois where they were both members of the Kappa Alpha Psi fraternity.

All three sons served their country in the armed forces. George had enlisted in the Army and graduated from officer training school as a second lieutenant in 1943. He was originally assigned to the 761st Tank Battalion, a segregated unit. He transferred to the U.S. Army Air Corps and earned his wings as a Tuskegee Airman on May 23, 1944.

George CiscoTragically, at age 26, George was killed in a training accident before he ever served overseas, and was the first person of color from Jersey County to lose his life in the war effort. During a routine training mission on August 16, 1944, George’s aircraft was on the runway at an airfield in Walterboro, South Carolina, when it was struck by another plane coming in for a landing. He left behind his wife, Claire, and their infant daughter, Donna.

Arnold earned his wings as a Tuskegee Airman and was assigned to the 99th Pursuit Squadron, eventually deployed to Ramitelli Air Base in Italy. There he flew the infamous P-51 Mustang fighter in ground strafing and bomber escort missions. His wartime service earned him the Distinguished Flying Cross, Air Medal with Oak Leaf Clusters, World War II Victory Medal, American Campaign Medal and the European–African–Middle Eastern Campaign Medal.

In another tragic turn of fate for the Cisco family, Arnold was tragically killed at the young age of 26 during military leave to visit his family. On May 19, 1946, the transport plane he was on hit power lines during a storm and crashed near Tuskegee, Alabama. He had been in Chicago to visit his wife, Hinnie, who was pregnant at the time with their son, and was on his way back to Tuskegee where he was to be promoted to the rank of Major before returning to fight overseas.Arnold Cisco 

Because the family lost two of their three children to the war, their youngest son, Harlow, was honorably discharged after three years of service in the Army when the Korean War broke out. According to the Sole Survivor policy that was enacted in 1948, the military was compelled to excuse a family’s sole survivor from active service during wartime.

The history of the Cisco family is a lesson in service, sacrifice and determination to press on in the face of great adversity. The community of Alton and Jerseyville will proudly erect their monument so these forgotten heroes can stand as a beacon of inspiration and courage.

The CAF Red Tail Squadron salutes George and Arnold Cisco, and remembers the great sacrifice of their family.

The CAF Red Tail Squadron is a volunteer-driven organization dedicated to educating audiences across the country about the history and legacy of the Tuskegee Airmen, America’s first black military pilots and their support personnel. Learn more at www.redtail.org.

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Profiles of Tuskegee Airmen: Dr. Fenton Sands

Screen Shot 2017 03 22 at 11.47.59 AMDefying expectations is a hallmark of the Tuskegee Airmen. It may seem unusual that a kid from the urban metropolis of New York City would emerge as an international agricultural expert, but original Tuskegee Airmen Dr. Fenton sands did just that, and much more. He would grow up to leave those crowded city streets for the Ivy League, serve his country, and go on to dedicate his post-war civilian career to people all over the world. Like other inspirational Tuskegee Airmen, Sands has left his mark on history.

Although Sands was born in Harlem in 1918, his family originally emigrated to the U.S. from the Bahamas to find better opportunities for work and education. The sentiment “Get an education!” ran strong in their family. The children knew that, no matter what, this was their path forward. Sands hit that first milestone in 1936, graduating from Stuyvesant High School, one of the best high schools in New York City at the time.

Now called Jackie Robinson Park, Sands was inspired by Colonial Park, 10 blocks of open space in Harlem that sparked his curious nature. Growing up across this street from this gem where city met nature, his love for science took root, eventually leading him to Cornell to study agriculture. He was defying odds – a black man from the big city majoring in agriculture at a rural and predominantly white college.

He studied hard at Cornell, learned to farm, worked for a power company, and was a resident of the now-famous Telluride House. Still in existence today, the Telluride House is a unique community of Cornell scholars – undergraduate, graduate and faculty – passionate about intellectual engagement, democratic self-governance, and community living. Within this setting, Sands was afforded a rich and intense academic experience. He graduated in 1942 with a Bachelor of Science in Agriculture, majoring in horticulture and agronomy, the science of soil management and crop production. He was the first in his family to earn a college degree.

While still at Cornell, Sands applied to the U.S. Army Air Corps’ new flight training program for black men because of his interest in aviation. He also wanted the opportunity to do something worthwhile for his country that was previously restricted from black Americans. Many people in the country, like Sands, were eager to join the war effort, and wanted the chance to do so regardless of the color of their skin, in critical roles where their skills and education could make a marked difference in fighting the enemy.

In June of 1942, Sands passed the examination needed to qualify as a cadet in the Air Corps to the great delight and pride of his entire family. By December he was assigned to pre-flight training at the Army Air Force Advanced Flying Training School in Tuskegee, Alabama and his future in aviation was set in motion.

As a cadet, Sands was a part of the now iconic picture with then New York City mayor Firello LaGuardia with the first class of black aviation navigation cadets who would go on to fly bombers. The group was heralded on this historic visit to New York and many flocked to see them in a parade, amazed at the prospect of black Americans flying aircraft in the war effort.

Sands was commissioned as an officer February of 1944. By June he completed bombardier training and was later assigned to the 477th Bombardier Group, becoming a member of a unique, select group of black navigators-bombardiers, the first of their kind in the military.

The war ended before the 477th was deployed overseas and Sands was honorably discharged in December of 1945 and shortly after married Dorothy Holder. The two moved to Africa in 1946, working as missionaries in Liberia to help re-open and revitalize the church-run Cuttington College. Sands would work on the school’s agricultural program, and during that time their two first children were born.

Sands and his family returned to the states so he could pursue a doctorate, and in 1954 he graduated from Cornell once again, this time with a PhD in agriculture. With their third child born during this time, the growing family once again returned to Africa where Sands served as Cuttington’s Vice President and Director of Agriculture. Later he would go on to take an assignment with his family in Nigeria.

His important work in agriculture expanded to work with USAID and the World Bank, serving in such locations as South Sudan, Sudan, Mexico, Peru, Ecuador, Columbia, the Virgin Islands, Morocco, Tunisia, Madagascar, Greece, South Yemen, North Yemen, Oman, Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, Vietnam, Thailand and the Phillippines. He retired in 1982.

Dr. and Mrs. Sands continued to explore and travel the world in their retirement, and joined several civic organizations. He was a member of the General “Chappie” James chapter of Tuskegee Airmen, Inc., mentoring young people through his inspirational military service and civilian career experience.

Sands passed away in 1998. His commitment to education and life’s work inspired all three of his children and seven grandchildren attended college. For a more detailed account of his life and to see photos and original documents from him time as a Tuskegee Airmen and working around the world, read “A Tuskegee Airman and Much More” by his son, Fenton Sands Jr.

We salute you, Dr. Sands, for your service and worthy contributions to make our world a better place. RISE ABOVE!

The CAF Red Tail Squadron is a volunteer-driven organization dedicated to educating audiences across the country about the history and legacy of the Tuskegee Airmen, America’s first black military pilots and their support personnel. Learn more at www.redtail.org.

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Founding member Don Hinz inducted into CAF Hall of Fame

IMG 3496In 2010, the Commemorative Air Force established the CAF Hall of Fame to honor members who have made monumental contributions towards the success and worldwide impact of the organization. On March 4, 2017, the late CAF Red Tail Squadron founding member Don Hinz, retired Navy commander, was inducted into the CAF Hall of Fame for his outstanding efforts to honor the history and legacy of the Tuskegee Airmen through his volunteer service with the CAF.

Tragically, Don passed away in 2004 from injuries sustained in an engine malfunction in the P-51C Mustang Tuskegee Airmen, but his vision to bring the lessons of these important American heroes into every classroom in the country continues to fuel the work of the CAF Red Tail Squadron. The addition of the RISE ABOVE Traveling Exhibit to the CAF Red Tail Squadron was a direct result of that vision.

At the induction ceremony, CAF Red Tail Squadron P-51C Mustang pilot and founding member Doug Rozendaal presented the award to Don's son, USMC officer and pilot Ben Hinz, who accepted it on behalf of the entire Hinz family.

Hinz noted that his father would not have accepted the award solely for himself. “He would point to the men and women who, 75 years ago, stood on the grounds of the Tuskegee Institute and fought for the opportunity to defend their country in the skies above Europe. That’s where the honor really lies. And if I think about how we honor their story and their tradition, along with my dad, I think the answer is quite simple. We fulfill my dad’s vision to put the story into every classroom in America of courage in the face of adversity as embodied by the Tuskegee Airmen. Thank you to the CAF for continuing to fulfill his vision and honoring his memory tonight.”

Don’s respect and reverence for the experience of the Tuskegee Airmen brought a vintage warbird back to the skies to inspire an entire generation to RISE ABOVE, and not just wow the audience at air shows. He saw restoring the P-51C Mustang as a tool to engage and ignite conversations with people of all ages that would help bring about an appreciation for the sacrifices made by the Tuskegee Airmen to serve their country while fighting for their own equality.

CAF's tribute to Hinz from the 2017 CAF Hall of Fame induction ceremony includes an interview he gave in the early days of the project. He said, “This aircraft is going to represent the contributions and sacrifices of African Americans in World War II. It will travel the country – maybe even the world – telling their story, celebrating their history and educating youth about their ability to follow their dreams, overcome obstacles and find their success.”

Hinz left an indelible mark not only on the CAF Red Tail Squadron, but also on the entire Commemorative Air Force. “Don brought education to the forefront,” said Rozendaal. “He knew this was not about an airplane; it was a tool we needed to tell the story of the Tuskegee Airmen. He was a great leader and an incredible guy. He made me a better man. Don Hinz made this a better organization.”

The CAF Red Tail Squadron extends hearty congratulations to the Hinz family. Join us as we continue to honor his vision to inspire and educate people everywhere through the remarkable story of the Tuskegee Airmen.

The CAF Red Tail Squadron is a volunteer-driven organization dedicated to educating audiences across the country about the history and legacy of the Tuskegee Airmen, America’s first black military pilots and their support personnel. Learn more at www.redtail.org.

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Officially taking to the airways TODAY!

We’re excited to report that CAF Red Tail Squadron P-51C Mustang pilot and Squadron Leader Doug Rozendaal has just taken final delivery of the Tuskegee Airmen after over a year of repairs. The aircraft is now officially back in service of the CAF Red Tail Squadron to honor the history and legacy of the Tuskegee Airmen to audiences around the country for the 2017 air show season!

Today Rozendaal is flying the Mustang to the CAF National Airbase at Dallas Executive Airport where the aircraft will rest for a short bit before hitting the air show circuit. The CAF Red Tail Squadron’s RISE ABOVE: Red Tail program has already launched its 2017 cross-country tour and is currently in Phoenix, Ariz. for private visits at local schools, with special guest original Tuskegee Airman Col Charles McGee.

The P-51C Mustang Tuskegee Airmen is slated to make its public debut at the 2017 Yuma Airshow March 17 and 18 where it will wow the audience with an aerobatic performance in the show, and be on static display alongside the RISE ABOVE Traveling Exhibit to inspire and inform people of all ages with the important message of the Tuskegee Airmen, our country’s first black military pilots and their support personnel.

The Mustang has been tapped to appear at many events around the country in 2017. To find out if the RISE ABOVE: Red Tail program, featuring the P-51C Mustang Tuskegee Airmen and the RISE ABOVE Traveling Exhibit, will be near you, keep tabs on our events calendar. Make plans to come see us in person, introduce yourself and leave inspired to RISE ABOVE any challenge, just like the Tuskegee Airmen.

Once again, welcome back to our P-51C Mustang Tuskegee Airmen! You are a treasure!

Photo Courtesy Adam Glowski March 2017 copy

The CAF Red Tail Squadron is a volunteer-driven organization dedicated to educating audiences across the country about the history and legacy of the Tuskegee Airmen, America’s first black military pilots and their support personnel. Learn more at www.redtail.org.

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