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Join date : 2011-12-25
|Subject: Toni Frissell in Ramitelli, March 1945 Fri 14 Sep 2012, 13:00|| |
I mentioned Frissell during the Cecil Beaton photographs thread but thought that this aspect to her wartime career merited special attention.
332nd Fighter Group was a unique outfit. Jim Crow Laws might have been restricted to the old Confederate states back home but when the US draft applied to the entire country and to all males between 18 and 45 it was inevitable that Jim Crow would make its bigoted presence felt within the armed forces regardless of which branch or in which theatre of war they were deployed. The Air Force was no exception. At first assumed not even to be able to master the mechanics and technical skills required to fly, black aviators slowly acquired recognition and respect for their contribution in this field of combat, often in the face of blatant discrimination and disregard from their so-called superiors.
Air Force regulations which upheld strict segregation meant that it wasn't until 1943 that sufficient black airmen and ground crew had been trained to a point whereby they could be deployed as an operational group, though previously a pursuit squadron, the 99th (later 99th Fighter Squadron), had been set up for black aviators and had served with distinction in North Africa and as part of the Sicily landings operation. Training was also segregated and conducted exclusively at the Tuskegee USAF base in Alabama - hence the nickname applied to all its graduates - and the largest contingent of these ended up in the specially formed 332nd, headed up by Colonel Benjamin Davis.
In March 1945 the 332nd (including by now the 99th Fighter Squadron) had been operating out of Ramitelli in Italy for nine months, conducting bomber escort and strafing operations in the dwindling Nazi-held territories of Eastern Europe. There they were visited by photographer Toni Frissell, later a famous fashion photographer but who, in 1945, was better known as an esteemed war correspondent and who spent a day or two in their company documenting their day to day life. In doing this she was bucking a trend, and a despicable one at that. Both the 99th and the 332nd had already been the subject of inquiries, one congressional, in which their record - one esteemed by their peers in bomber command who had nicknamed them the "Red Tail Angels" - had been impugned amidst great publicity and for no apparent reason other than apparent resentment in some quarters that their accomplishments equalled those of their white colleagues. Only a stalwart and sustained defence of their reputation by Davis, one that he had been forced to take to Capitol Hill, ensured the outfit's survival but by the time Frissell made these pictures - intended for a Life Magazine article - their reputation back in the USA was still sullied, and that was where it impinged on a largely indifferent public consciousness at all. As far as I'm aware the article never got publsihed in the end.
The men featured in these pictures include Gentry E. Barnes, Lawrenceville, IL, Samuel W. Watts, Jr., New York, NY, Wendell M. Lucas, Fairmont Heights, MD, Harold M. Morris, Seattle, WA, John H. Porter, Cleaveland, OH, Joseph L. "Joe" Chineworth, Memphis, TN, Wyrain T. Schell, Brooklyn, NY, Sgt. William P .Bostic and Col. Benjamin Davis.