First Tuskegee Airmen Salute in Detroit


DETROIT — The Detroit RiverFront Conservancy has arranged a special celebration as part of the launch of its 6th Annual Detroit River Days Festival, to salute the Tuskegee Airmen – 15 African American fighter pilots known as the “Red Tails” who were responsible for the safe passage of U.S. bomber crews during World War II – to be held on Friday, June 22 at 11:30 a.m. on the G.M. Plaza at the Renaissance Center.  A B-17 bomber from World War II will depart from Willow Run Airport and make three fly-overs at noon during the ceremonies that day.

A special presentation will be made by Mayor Dave Bing during the ceremony.

The Tuskegee Airmen were a group of 932 pilots who trained at the Tuskegee Institute’s Division of Aeronautics located in Alabama, with 355 pilots deployed overseas.  Of that group, 30 pilots were prisoners of war, and one attending the ceremonies, Alex Jefferson, was a prisoner of war at the infamous Stalag POW camp.

The Red Tails were the first African-American military aviators in the United States Armed Forces.  During World War II, African Americans in many of the U.S. states were still subject to Jim Crow laws.  The American military was racially segregated.  Despite these adversities, they trained and flew with distinction. 

Their accomplishments were legendary and included:

• 15,553 combat sorties

• 261 enemy aircraft destroyed

• 148 enemy aircraft damaged

• 112 German aircraft destroyed in the air

• 950 rail cars, trucks and other motor vehicles destroyed

“It is important for us to salute the Tuskegee Airmen along the Detroit Riverfront and their impact on all of us, the arsenal of democracy, and on the lives of our young people who can emulate them in their dedication to public service and in careers in aviation,” said Faye Nelson, President and CEO of the Detroit RiverFront Conservancy.

Distinguished Flying Crosses were awarded to 95 Tuskegee pilots.  In March, 2007, they were awarded a Gold Medal by Congress in a ceremony at the U.S. Capitol Rotunda. The movie Red Tails, among many others in the past, was released earlier in 2012 and has chronicled their heroic feats of courage and dedication to our country.

The following Tuskegee Pilots will participate in the June 22 ceremonies:

Jesse Rutledge

William Thompson

Richard Jennings

Ralph Mason

Sandy Reid

Washington Ross

Alex Jefferson

P.T. Cochran

William Fuller

Harry Steward

Dr. John Cunningham

Frederick Henry

Burkes Esaw, Sr.

Eddie Marcy

Allie Peete

There will also be information tables inside the G.M. Wintergarden providing information on the Tuskegee Airmen Chapter, the Tuskegee Air Museum and the Yankee Air Museum and information on careers in aviation.

The 6th Annual Detroit River Days festival runs from Friday, June 22 to Sunday, June 24. Festival hours are 11 a.m. – 11 p.m. on Friday & Saturday; and 11 a.m. – 10 p.m. on Sunday. Admission is $3 before 5 p.m., $5 after 5:00 p.m. and free on Friday until 5:00 p.m. Kick off  summer along Detroit’s beautiful RiverWalk with Detroit River Days, the family-friendly festival that features the new Detroit River ArtScape competition, a salute to the Tuskegee Airmen, a bike night, recreational activities from the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, a pet walk, street performers, rides and games, a Tall Ship, sand sculptures and live concerts. For up-to-date information on schedules and events, please visit