Alaska’s 477th Fighter Group can trace its roots directly to the famed Tuskegee Airmen of World War II. This heritage was honored when Lucasfilm gave select Reserve servicemen an early screening of the company’s new film “Red Tails.”
About 200 current and former military members plus community leaders, students and a member of Tuskegee Airmen Inc. were treated to the special showing at the Tikhatnu movie theater in Anchorage in December. A publicity manager for Lucasfilm plus one of the movie’s actors, Marcus Paulk, accompanied their work to Alaska.
“Red Tails” tells a fictionalized story inspired by the black airmen group that broke segregation and fought during World War II. It was executive produced by George Lucas and directed by Anthony Hemingway. It stars Cuba Gooding Jr. and Terrence Howard.
“Our 477th Fighter group is a direct descendant of the 477th Bombardment Group in which the Tuskegee Airmen were training in B-25 bombers during World War II,” said Col. Bryan Radliff, commander of the 477th.
This training originated in Alabama and moved to three different locations in the upper Midwest during the war. The movie is based on the fighter squadrons at the time, one of which was the 302nd Fighter Squadron that now calls Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson home.
The 477th and the 302nd were reactivated here in 2007, when the group became the Air Force Reserve Command’s first F-22 Raptor unit and the only Air Force Reserve unit in Alaska. Previous to being in Alaska, the 302nd Fighter Squadron was at Luke Air Force Base in Phoenix, Arizona flying F-16s. They’ve been activated in several other places throughout the years.
The film only covers a small period of the Tuskegee Airmen history, namely how they earned their name “Red Tails.”
“The neat takeaway from this is if you’re a fan of military history, World War II history or even racial integration and where we are today, I think this movie gives folks a nice balance of all three of those,” Radliff said.
The airmen at the time faced racial discrimination, even when it came to flying alongside their white brothers-in-arms. They proved to be successful and flew more than 1,500 missions between 1943 and 1945. They painted the tails of their bomber escorts a distinctive red pattern and white pilots were soon requesting these agents because of their high skill level.
While the film focuses on the broader picture of the Red Tails, the message is an important piece of military history that is not lost on its descendants.
“Due to the sacrifices and the success of this organization had a he impact on the ability of the armed forces to integrate,” Radliff said.
Lucasfilm selected JBER for a screening after several unit members attended the Tuskegee Airmen Inc. convention in Washington, D.C., last summer. Viewings of the trailer plus a documentary were all it took to convince them to engage Lucasfilm representatives on the JBER link and request an advance screening. Lucasfilm agreed.
Alaska is not the only stop on the “Red Tails” tour. Lucasfilm spokesman Marshall Mitchell said the company has been actively screening it for military audiences to help call attention to the Tuskegee Airmen’s story. He said early screenings are a way to honor the troops today.
“Sharing this film with airmen in Alaska at the 477th, at the US Air Force Academy with future warriors and leaders, and at large military gatherings goes to the heart of this film. The story has never been fully told and their contribution never fully honored,” Mitchell said.
The support of the Air Force Reserve Command finally got the screening here after five months of work.
“Tuskegee Airmen across the nation have received this film with both pride and humility. Finally, their story will be exposed to mainstream audiences while many of them are still alive to share firsthand accounts. Dozens of Tuskegee Airmen have attended these screenings across the country. Many others are planned during January,” Mitchell said.