WMU News

Three Tuskegee Airmen visit WMU Friday

March 8, 2003

KALAMAZOO -- Three veterans of the famed World War II unit, the Tuskegee Airmen, will visit the Western Michigan University campus Friday, March 14, to explore the history of the group that helped pave the way for integration of the military.

Maj. Gen. Lucius Theus, Lt. Col. Lee Archer and Lt. Col. Alexander Jefferson will offer "A Historical Overview and Personal Reflections on Being Tuskegee Airmen" in a talk set for 10 to 11:30 a.m. in the Putney Lecture Hall, Room 1010, of WMU's Fetzer Center. The event, scheduled to celebrate the role of black aviators as the nation celebrates 100 years of flight, is sponsored by WMU's College of Aviation and by the Africana Studies Program.

Following their morning lecture, the three airmen will repeat their presentation in a 2 p.m. appearance in the Aviation Education Center of the aviation college's facilities at W.K. Kellogg Airport in Battle Creek, Mich. Both events are free and open to the public.

The Tuskegee Airmen were an elite group of 450 black pilots trained for World War II's European theatre. The 332nd Fighter Group, made up of the Tuskegee pilots, became one of the Allies' strongest weapons against the Nazis. The group was trained at Tuskegee Institute in Alabama after the U.S. Air Force's strict policies on racial segregation prompted a lawsuit by an African-American who was refused pilot training because of his race.

The Tuskegee program was expected to "prove" racial deficiencies in intelligence and concentration, yet the Tuskegee Institute graduates include a number of pilots who went on to great aviation and military success. Three, including Theus, went on to serve as generals. In their Redtailed P-47s and P-51s, Tuskegee Airmen flew 15,533 sorties in over 1,578 missions throughout Europe and North Africa. Collectively, the Tuskegee Airmen earned 150 Distinguished Flying Crosses, Legions of Merit and the Red Star of Yugoslavia; nine Purple Hearts; 14 Bronze Stars; 744 Air Medals and clusters; and three distinguished unit citations.

Theus retired from the Air Force in 1979 as director of accounting and finance. His 36-year Air Force career was dedicated to upgrading military administrative operations, improving human and race relations in the Armed Forces and encouraging young people to pursue careers in aviation. Theus was the first African-American support officer and only the third overall to be appointed general in the U.S. Air Force. Theus also was the first African-American to attend the Harvard Business School's Advanced Management Program.

He is the recipient of the Distinguished Service Medal with Oak Leaf Cluster, the Legion of Merit and the Bronze Star. The Major General Lucius Theus Auditorium at Patrick Air Force Base was dedicated in his honor in 1996.

The Bloomfield Hills, Mich., resident is currently chief operating officer of the Wellness Group, based in Southfield, Mich., and president of The U.S. Associates, a management consulting group.

Archer, who flew 169 combat missions, was the U.S. Air Force's first black pilot to earn the coveted "ace" designation by downing five enemy planes. His military career spanned nearly three decades of service and led to citations from Presidents Eisenhower, Kennedy and Johnson and from the Air Force Chief of Staff and the director of the Central Intelligence Agency. Decorated with the Distinguished Flying Cross, Archer retired as a lieutenant colonel after 29 years of service. He now resides in New Rochelle, N.Y.

Following the war, Archer was assigned to Tuskegee Army Air Field as chief of the Instrument Instructor School. He held numerous post-war positions, including chief of protocol for the French Liaison Office, Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe; White House Air Force-France Project Officer; and chief and executive officer of three international military organizations.

In civilian life, Archer taught at New York University and the universities of Maryland and Florida. He served as corporate vice president for urban affairs for General Foods Corp, chief executive officer of North Street Capital Corp. and chairman of Hudson Commercial Corp.

Jefferson, a Detroit native, retired from the U.S. Air Force reserves in 1969. A 1942 graduate of Clark College, Jefferson earned his pilot's wings in 1944 and flew 18 long-range, bomber-escort missions before being shot down by ground fire while on a mission in France. He spent nine months as a German prison of war before being liberated by Gen. George Patton's Third Army.

Following the war, Jefferson served as an instrument instructor at the Tuskegee airfield. He was discharged from active duty in 1947, but remained active in the U.S. Air Force reserves for the next 22 years. He has been decorated with the Air Medal, the Air Force Achievement Medal the Prisoner of War Medal and the Air Force Presidential Unit citation.

Following his discharge from active duty, Jefferson went on to earn a master's degree from Wayne State University and enjoyed a 30-year career with the Detroit School System before retiring as a vice principal in 1979.

Media contact: Cheryl Roland, 269 387-8400, cheryl.roland@wmich.edu

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