Reserve Citizen Airmen from the 944th Fighter Wing at Luke Air Force Base took to the skies Friday, Oct. 2 to honor the life and service of retired U.S. Air Force Maj. George Washington Biggs, an Arizona native who was one of the original Tuskegee Airmen.
Maj. Biggs, 95, was a veteran of three wars — World War II, Korea and Vietnam. He passed away Saturday, Sept. 19 in Tucson.
The pilots executed an F-35 Lightning II Missing Man formation flyover of the Arizona State Capitol in Maj. Biggs’ memory Oct. 2.
“It was most appropriate and fitting for such a patriot,” said Richard Toliver, Archer-Ragsdale Arizona Chapter, Tuskegee Airmen president and CEO. “Like every member of the Tuskegee Airmen, and other men and women of color, Maj. Biggs answered the clarion call of duty, honor, and country while America was grappling with internal issues of racial bigotry, oppression, and segregation.”
The 944th maintainers and pilots who participated, executed the mission successfully. Lt. Col. Tamerlane “Ronin” Kangas, 944th Operations Group Detachment 2 instructor pilot and lead pilot for the mission, expressed his respect and appreciation for the struggles Maj. Biggs went through almost 80 years ago.
“Being a black pilot, I probably wouldn’t be able to do what I’m doing now without the trials and tribulations that Maj. Biggs and his fellow Tuskegee Airmen went through,” Lt. Col. Kangas said. “I feel very honored to have been able to do this.”
Lt. Kangas has attended Tuskegee Airmen conventions and conferences throughout his career and has talked to some of these men face-to-face.
“Each individual story was inspiring in its own way,” he said.
The heritage of the 944th and the legacy of the Tuskegee Airmen date back to World War II. The Tuskegee Airmen were first trained at Tuskegee Army Air Field in Tuskegee, Ala.
The first aviation cadet class began in July 1941 and completed training nine months later. Thirteen men started in the first class, but only five successfully completed the training. From 1942 to 1946, 994 pilots graduated, receiving commissions and their pilot wings.
Black navigators, bombardiers and gunnery crews were also trained at selected military bases elsewhere in the United States. Tuskegee pilots were assigned to the 301st and 302nd Fighter Squadrons within the 332nd Fighter Group during WWII.
The 944th FW reactivated the 302nd FS in 1987 and in 2000 it reactivated the 301st FS.
Today, an F-16 painted in WWII Tuskegee colors, sits in an airpark in front of the 944th FW headquarters building and is dedicated to the “Red Tail” warriors of the Tuskegee Airmen.
“The 944th FW is incredibly proud of our heritage connection to the Tuskegee Airmen and our continuing relationship with Archer-Ragsdale chapter,” said Col. Jim Greenwald, 944th FW commander. “The Missing Man formation flyover is one of the most treasured traditions. It was a tremendous honor for 944th FW pilots and maintainers to be able to commemorate his life in this way.
The Department of the Air Force recently stood up a special task force to address the issue of racial, ethnic and other demographic disparities and their impact within the department. The Diversity and Inclusion initiative is actively seeking ways to improve diversity and inclusion leading to broader opportunities for all department personnel.
The 944th has enthusiastically embraced the current Air Force direction and carries a constant reminder of how things used to be in their own history and culture. It also highlights the importance of strength and resiliency.
“I constantly emphasize the importance of our Reserve Citizen Airman culture,” Col. Greenwald said. “The service of Maj. Biggs and other Tuskegee Airmen is a crucial part of that culture. His resilience and distinguished service in the face of adversity is an outstanding example for today’s Airmen.”
“Our Air Force and our nation are better because of Maj. Biggs’ service and sacrifice,” he said.
Editor’s note: Master Sgt. Louis Vega Jr. is with the 944th Fighter Wing Public Affairs office at Luke Air Force Base.