In 1982, oral historian Holway, who had published seven books on the Negro Baseball League, attended an exhibition on the WWII-era all-black fighter pilot squadron known as the Tuskegee Airmen. Enthralled by the pilots' feats and stories, he began frequenting the unit's reunions. "It was like eating popcorn," he writes. "I couldn't stop." Here, Holway has woven these stories into an important and inspirational work. With care, he chronicles the men's repeated efforts to crack the color barrier in a hostile armed forces. Finally, under pressure from many fronts, including Congress and the White House, the Air Force began training black pilots at Alabama's Tuskegee Institute. Once trained, however, the pilots were scorned within the service-until they established a remarkable record as bomber escorts in Italy, where their distinctive red-tailed aircraft lost not a single bomber to enemy fire. Holway wisely allows the veterans ample room to tell their tales in their own words, and they provide keen insights into both social and aviation history. One former pilot recounts how restaurant patrons in a small Southern town reacted with near-tragic panic to the sight of the uniformed airmen carrying military-issued sidearms. Other veterans recall in hair-raising detail how the P-51 Mustang earned its reputation as an outstanding aircraft. Most astounding is the tale of 101 black officers who returned from victory in Europe only to "mutiny" after being banned from using a whites-only officers club. Arrested and incarcerated en masse, the mutineers were exonerated only in 1995. This exemplary work is sure to spark renewed interest in the accomplishments of the heroic Red Tails. Photos not seen by PW. (Feb.)
In this history of black aviation in America from 1911 to the Vietnam War, though concentrating on World War II and the Tuskegee airmen, Holway (Josh and Satch, Carroll & Graf, 1992) interviewed members of the 99th Fighter Squadron. They tell their stories of what they endured to become military pilots. The Red Tails, as the 99th was known, painted the tails of their planes red so that anyone who saw them would know who they were. Because the 99th never lost a bomber they were escorting to enemy aircraft, bomber crews who saw the Red Tails knew they had a good chance of getting home. Although the record of the 99th was outstanding, it was hidden by the prejudice of the time. Told from the point of view of one Tuskegee airman, Charles W. Dryden's A-Train (LJ 1/97) is a more interesting story, though Holway's work as a collective biography is an important addition to any African American history and/or military studies collection.-Terry L. Wirick, Erie Cty. Lib. System, Pa.