San Marcos Mercury | Local News from San Marcos and Hays County, Texas

August 12th, 2010
SMA students meet Tuskegee Airmen on field trip

081010sma1Standing by an F-16 “Red Tail” at Randolph Air Force Base, San Maercos Academy students are joined by tour coordinator Frederick Rucker (far left). Front row, left to right: Adam Rollins, Zack Middleton, Shane Boyer. Back row, left to right: sponsor Shelley Henry, Estevan Gutierrez, Donovan Jackson, Colin King, Cooper Allan, Ty Merriweather, Parker Allan, Desmond Jackson, Dalton Wade, Alec Patton, Daniel Sexton, and sponsor Don Rollins.

STAFF REPORT

Thirteen San Marcos Academy (SMA) students met some World War II veterans and got an up-close look at U.S. Air Force trainer jets  at Randolph Air Force base during a summer field trip to San Antonio on July 31.

The Youth Day program was sponsored by the Tuskegee Airmen, Inc., (TAI) in conjunction with the TAI’s national convention being held at the Grand Hyatt Hotel. Frederick Rucker, a TAI member and membership sales manager for the San Marcos Air Evac Lifetem, helped to make the arrangements that allowed the SMA students to participate.

The SMA students who were on the field trip include Adam Rollins, Zack Middleton, Shane Boyer, Estevan Gutierrez, Donovan Jackson, Colin King, Cooper Allan, Ty Merriweather, Parker Allan, Desmond Jackson, Dalton Wade, Alec Patton and Daniel Sexton.

During the first half of the day, the SMA students joined 50 other youth for a tour of Randolph Air Force Base. Randolph is home to the 99th Flying Squadron, which is one of the four Tuskegee Airmen squadrons that were part  of the 332nd Fighter Group. The Tuskegee Airmen were the first African-American military aviators in the United States armed forces.

The tour featured displays of the base’s trainer jets and other aircraft, including an F-16 with the distinctive “red tail” that pays tribute to the Tuskegee Airmen. Flying aircraft with tails painted vermillion, the Tuskegee Airmen had, by the end of the war, won  the distinction of  having damaged or destroyed over 260 enemy aircraft and had flown over 15,000 combat sorties. The Airmen, known as the “Red Tails” at that time, had one of the lowest loss records of any escort fighter group and were in constant demand for their services by bomber units. They collectively earned over 150 Distinguished Flying Crosses.

Students also watched a film about the Tuskegee pilots and saw photos and other memorabilia.

“I really liked meeting the different pilots and instructors at Randolph Air Base and hearing about their experiences and their love for flying,” said SMA junior Alec Patton. “Learning about the Tuskegee Airmen and their struggles and triumphs was also a great experience.”

SMA sophomore Estevan Gutierrez talked with several pilot instructors at the base and said, “I liked this experience because I now have an idea of what I want to do with my life.”

After the tour the students attended a luncheon at the Grand Hyatt Hotel, where they got to see the Air Force Honor Drill Team give a demonstration of their skills.

“I still cannot believe that I got to see the Air Force Honor Guard in person,” said  SMA senior Zack Middleton, who will serve as the JROTC Battalion commander this year. “Their performance was amazing.”

The highlight of the day, for many of the students, came after the luncheon, when they heard several of the Tuskegee Airmen talk about their training and service in the Army Air Corps during World War II.

Retired Captain Claude Platte spoke to students about his experience as one of the first African-American officers to be trained and commissioned in the Tuskegee Airmen program. He went on to train more than 400 airmen. The Tuskegee Airmen were awarded the Congressional Gold Medal by President George W. Bush in 2007.

“It was a really great experience to be able to talk to the Tuskegee Airmen,” said SMA eighth grader Donovan Jackson. His brother, ninth grader Desmond Jackson, said, “It was a life-changing event that gave me knowledge I would not have gained otherwise. I am thankful that I had the chance to experience this.”

About 1,000 African-American pilots graduated from the Tuskegee Army Air Field (TAAF) in Tuskegee, AL, from 1941-1946. Many other African-Americans were part of the air crew, ground crew and operations support. The surviving members of the Airmen are now in their 80s and 90s and have just a precious few years left to share their experiences. The TAI was founded as a non-profit organization to honor and preserve the memory of the men of the Tuskegee program.

SMA junior Adam Rollins said, “I was deeply honored to meet and talk to these living legends. The stories of their troubles and achievements moved me.”

Shane Boyer, an SMA junior said, “I didn’t expect to be so blown away by the useful knowledge that the Tuskegee Airmen gave us.” Boyer will be the command sergeant major for the JROTC Battalion this year. “I believe this was a great experience for both me and my classmates. Because of this, I definitely have a deeper appreciation for those serving our country,” he said.

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Before climbing aboard for a look, San Marcos Academy students get an overview of the T-43A by a Randolph Air Force Base pilot instructor.

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San Marcos Academy sophomore Estevan Gutierrez visits with the pilot of a T-6 Texan at Randolph Air Force Base.

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Academy students Parker Allan, Dalton Wade, Daniel Sexton and Shane Boyer investigate some of the features of an F-16 with a Randolph Air Force Base pilot instructor.

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Retired Captain Claude Platte speaks to students about his experience as one of the African-American officers to be trained and commissioned in the Tuskegee Airmen program.

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