53' Long by 12' High
It was 1939 when Tuskegee Institute started a Civilian Pilot Training Program. One of the first students was Dothan’s long-time resident, Sherman Rose. He became one of the first instructors.
It was a struggle for the new airmen to be recognized by the U.S. Army. The greatest boost they received occurred in 1940 when First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt visited the school. In spite of her guards’ protests, she insisted on flying with one of the students. C. Alfred Anderson, better known as “Chief”, was the lucky pilot to fly the First Lady around the Alabama countryside. Mrs. Roosevelt was thrilled with the flight and with those whom she met. She returned to Washington where she briefed the President in glowing terms. After a lawsuit was won by a black man, Yancy Williams, who had been rejected by the Army Air Corps, the military finally relented. On January 16, 1941, the all black unit designated as the 99th Pursuit Squadron (later changed to 99th Fighter Squadron) was activated by the Air Corps.
Thirty-five pilots and 300 mechanics and support personnel made up that original squadron. Before the end of the war, more than 900 black pilots and more than 10,000 black mechanics and support personnel were involved in the 99th Fighter Squadron.
On April 2, 1943, the 99th Fighter Squadron left Tuskegee and headed for North Africa. On June 9, 1943, the 99th experienced combat for the first time when they escorted twelve bombers on a mission to Pantelleria, Italy. They quickly proved that they were not only good – they were excellent. Throughout WWII, they never lost a bomber they escorted to enemy fighters. It wasn’t long before bomber pilots were requesting that the black pilots with the P-51 fighter planes with the distinctive red tails be their escort.
The record of the African-American fighter pilots was magnificent. They destroyed 111 enemy airplanes in the air, and another 150 on the ground in strafing missions. They are also the only fighter group on record to sink an enemy ship when they sank a German destroyer escort ship in the Mediterranean.
By the end of the war, 450 young black pilots had served overseas, along with their excellent mechanics. The men of the 99th were awarded nearly 900 decorations for their combat service. Sadly, 66 airmen gave their lives fighting for their country.
After the end of the war, Sherman Rose became the first black flight instructor at Fort Rucker, where he served until 1974.