Tuesday, January 24, 2012


"Red Tails"

Robyn is a volunteer at Refuge Farms and has been for several years now. If Robyn were a horse (and I mean that with all the respect in the world), I would tell you that Robyn is "true". Like Jerry, the Roan Horse. And Handsome. And even Laddee, the Little Belgian Mare. For a horse to be "true", it must be - above all else - loyal. Loyalty is a character trait that I hold dear and expect of those - horse and human - that I trust. Without loyalty, there is no trust. Pretty simple in my limited little mind.

Well, I trust Robyn. And yes, Robyn is "true". I find that her ability to read between the lines of my bulletin board postings is almost frightening. She sees right through my attempts at humor and sees the struggle. She recognizes the strain. the worry, and the ache. And she loves the animals. All of them. Beginning with Keller (who completely and wholly stole her heart!) and continuing through to the current Herd members.

And in the center of a storm, Robyn remains calm and is someone that I certainly want in my foxhole! I have worked with her in the absolute panic when every one of the horses escaped out of the pastures and into the yard. Running out onto Highway 29! Into traffic! And me, with a leg that could not support my weight! Robyn hung in there and was critical to the safe and swift return of the horses to their pastures.

Before Refuge Farms knew Robyn, she was a volunteer in other worthy organizations. Just last Friday, a movie opened in theatres across the country. It is a war movie but tells of a different type of war. The human battle for the right to just "be". It is the battle of a special group of black military men, specifically the pilots who came to be known as the Tuskegee Airmen."

How does this relate to Robyn? Read on. Get to know Robyn and her passion for the right of all creatures to live. To be. Come to know her and appreciate her as I do. A volunteer who is true, as a way of living every day.

Enjoy the journey of each and every day,
Sandy and The Herd

"Red Tails"

I’ve been writing for the Commemorative Air Force’s (CAF) Red Tail Squadron since 2006 when it was still called the Red Tail Project. I initially volunteered to write for them because they had this cool red-tailed P-51C Mustang fighter and I have always loved airplanes.

This is a picture of the CAF Red Tail Squadron’s restored Mustang in flight! The photo is provided courtesy of Max Haynes.

I have happy memories of going to air shows with my Father, a World War II B-26 bomber pilot who flew out of England and France. If there were any Mustangs on the tarmac as we wandered the air show, he’d walk up and just quietly touch each one. This was his way of remembering the brave Mustang pilots who protected his bomber and countless others as they lumbered across the skies to and from targets in Germany and other countries. The bombers had to fly in formation and were pretty much sitting ducks for the enemy’s fighters whose only goal was to shoot them down before they could drop their payload. The quick little Mustangs would engage the enemy in order to keep them away from the bombers and many American pilots gave their lives in the effort.

As I got more familiar with the Squadron’s educational mission, I soon came to realize that as great as their Mustang was, it was really only a tool to attract attention to the real story - that of the Tuskegee Airmen, America’s first black military pilots. Their determination and courage in the face of overwhelming odds helped change the course of American history.

We have no control over our skin color. Imagine being a young college-educated black man from a northern-tier city like Minneapolis who, in 1942, has finally been given the opportunity he’s longed for – to train to become a U.S. Army Air Corps pilot. He knows he’s lucky to have been selected for the new program. He also knows he has a lot to prove because black men have never been offered the chance to become military pilots before.

He’s faced some racial bias his whole life because he’s black, but nothing has prepared him for what he sees when he alights from the train in Tuskegee, Alabama, his new home for at least the next nine months.

There are “Whites Only” signs on doors of restrooms, hotels, and restaurants as well as buses and drinking fountains. When he gets to the base, it’s not any better because, for a while, a commandant actually enforced those rules on the base. (Eventually a new commandant saw how demoralizing that system was and banned it.)

He and the rest of his class are exposed to the local “Jim Crow” laws the whole time they’re at Tuskegee. To avoid trouble with the locals who always seemed to be looking for a fight, they stay on base. They apply themselves to the task at hand because they have to succeed.

The Army brass has designed the Tuskegee program to be extra difficult because many of them want it to fail. In fact, the first class started with 13 cadets and only five graduated, including Benjamin O. Davis who would go on to command the 332nd Fighter Group, which was made up of Tuskegee-trained pilots. He also would become the U.S. Air Force’s first black general. In all, from 1942 to 1944, 996 young black men received their wings at Tuskegee.

Here is a photo of Benjamin Davis as he prepares to take off in an advanced trainer while training at Tuskegee in January, 1942.

When the pilots and their support crews were finally deployed, the first all-black Fighter Squadron – the 99th - went to North Africa where its pilots were underutilized. In 1943, all Tuskegee-trained pilots and crews reunited in Italy and became part of the 332nd Fighter Group. The Army’s segregationist policies were still in place in the field and there was no penalty against white pilots and other officers who did not return the Airmen’s salutes – or worse. The Airmen were also barred from the officer’s clubs.

Despite all of the obstacles in their way, the Airmen continued on their quest to be the best at what they did and their reputation as superior escort pilots quickly grew. They painted the tails of their Mustang fighters red so that the white pilots who would not salute them on the ground would know who was protecting them in the air.

Soon those same pilots were requesting the “red tail angels” because of the Airmen’s skills as pilots and courage as warriors. In all, during World War II, the Tuskegee Airmen flew more than 15,000 combat sorties and were awarded hundreds of citations and metals.

You could say that the Tuskegee Airmen fought two wars – one against the enemy in the air and one on the ground against the segregationist policies of the country they swore to protect. Their performance as black aviators and skilled crew members during World War II was key to the complete desegregation of the entire U.S. armed forces in 1948.

On Friday, January 20, a new movie by George Lucas was released across the country. Called “Red Tails,” it’s the story of the Tuskegee Airmen told in big screen mode. Over the past few months, many members of the Squadron have had the opportunity to meet many of the stars, its director, a producer, and George Lucas. Mr. Lucas basically bankrolled the movie because he believes so strongly in the story.

Photo: “Red Tails” star Cuba Gooding, Jr. sits in the Squadron’s Mustang at an air show this fall.

The people of the CAF Red Tail Squadron are excited that the story they’ve been telling with the red-tailed Mustang named “Tuskegee Airmen” since 2001 is now on theater screens. They’re even more excited to know that when the movie fades into DVD sales, the Squadron team will still be touring air shows with the Mustang and the new RISE ABOVE Traveling Exhibit, continuing to tell the Tuskegee Airmen’s uplifting story of hope and determination.

For more information about the Squadron and the Tuskegee Airmen, I encourage you to check out these sites:





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