Defending a prejudiced nation

  • Published
  • By 1st Lt. Leanne Hedgepeth
  • Deputy Chief 17th Training Wing Public Affairs
San Antonio Tuskegee Airmen Incorporated members met Feb 6. at the Kendrick Enlisted Club.

The Tuskegee Airmen enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Corps becoming the first African-American Airmen in 1940. They exhibited patriotism even though their society deemed them as unworthy, unskilled and incompetent. These Airmen not only fought a war abroad, they fought a war at home against racial discrimination and intolerance. Their very footsteps paved the way for the racial cohesiveness the military experiences today.

Combat Edge Magazine notes, "The well-trained and highly motivated Tuskegee Airmen were able to overcome obstacles posed by segregation. They flew 15,500 missions, destroyed over 260 enemy aircraft, sank one enemy destroyer and demolished numerous enemy installations... Their achievements proved conclusively that the Tuskegee Airmen are highly disciplined and capable fighters."

Dr. Granville Coggs is a documented original Tuskegee Airman and member of Tuskegee Airmen Incorporated. He has written a book and attended two inaugurations.

Being a member of Tuskegee Airman Incorporated allows Coggs to give back to his country, he said.

On December 18, 1943 Coggs was an aviation cadet in Little Rock, Arkansas. He then went on to Keesler Airfield for basic training. Coggs was scheduled to be a bombardier. While at Keesler, in Biloxi, Mississippi he never left the base. He knew he was in "hostile territory;" a state overridden by discrimination he said.

Coggs accepted the world as it was because his goal was to be a commissioned bombardier in the black Army Air Corps.

He decided to try his chances with the black Army Air Corps because he knew he was going to be drafted. Coggs heard stories about blacks in the infantry and wanted to avoid living the negative experiences.

Coggs said the idea to train as a flyer came to him in the black newspapers, in his town of Little Rock, where a couple individuals had already graduated from the program and received publicity.

After Keesler Field, he was sent to the Tuskegee Institute in Alabama. There he took basic classes like English, algebra and swimming. He was sent 10 miles away to Tuskegee Army Airfield for preflight training for three months. There he accrued his first ten hours on the piper cub airframe.

"I was air sick after each flight," he added.

Coggs said he had to qualify as an aerial gunner before he could become a bombardier. He was sent to Tyndall Airfield for approximately six weeks. Coggs then returned to Tuskegee Airfield for more training.

He said the goal for the "Tuskegee experiment" was to train all candidates by the fall of 1944. "No doubts, these men who were selected for the program were the cream of the crop," Coggs added.

After passing several aptitude tests, Coggs was sent to Midland Army airfield for bombardier training. At Midland Field, blacks were separated from the whites.

"We had our own rooms and ate at different tables," he added.

The only time he came close to meeting a white classmate was during his graduation photo in January 1945. He believes the joint graduation photo was a propaganda tool to show the Russians the U.S. had integrated forces.

Coggs said he felt disappointed to find out his hometown did not publish his picture in the newspapers because of segregation rules.

During his time in the Army Air Corps, he earned military badges for aerial gunner-50 caliber machine gun, aerial bombardier and pilot of the multi-engine-B-25 medium bomber.

By the time Coggs completed his years of training, the war was over. After their careers in the black Army Air Corps, many Tuskegee Airmen continued to strive to make a difference in society. Coggs went on to achieve an illustrious career and accomplishments after his service.

Coggs became the first black physician staff member of the Kaiser Foundation Hospital in San Francisco, California. He received a Gold Medal in the men' s 75-79 age group, 400 meter dash at the Texas State Senior Games in Lubbock, Texas, Sept. 15 2001. Coggs also was inducted into the Arkansas Black Hall of Fame Nov. 13, 2001. "People are more impressed with my running," he said. Out of all his accomplishments, Coggs puts a great emphasis on his running talent.