Tuskegee Airmen applaud Lucas' 'Red Tails'
KING OF PRUSSIA, Pa. - January 17, 2012 (WPVI) -- Area members of the famed Tuskegee Airmen, along with their families and friends, packed a theater in King of Prussia for an advanced screening of the George Lucas film, 'Red Tails.'
For 23 years, George Lucas had been determined to bring the story about the fabled Tuskegee Airmen to the big screen - a film about their battles with both German pilots during World War II and Americans' racism that helped ignite the Civil Rights Movement.
"It's factual; it's a great film," retired Major Betram Levy of South Philadelphia said.
Back in those days, African Americans in many states were subject to Jim Crow laws. The American military was racially segregated.
Retired Major John Harrison remembers going to a recruiting station in Omaha, Nebraska, and telling the sergeant he wanted to be trained as a pilot to shoot down the enemy.
"He said 'we don't train,' he looked around, he said, 'you people to be pilots.' The sergeant threw me out of the recruiting station," Harrison said.
Harrison went back two weeks later with a picture of the first 5 black pilots that graduated from Tuskegee.
"And he said, 'you again?' and I said, 'yes,'" Harrison said.
This time, the captain came out to speak with him.
"And the captain said, 'you really want to be a pilot, don't you?' I said, 'yes sir, just like you.' He was not a pilot, but I buttered him up," Harrison said.
For men like Harrison, persistence paid off. The Tuskagee Airman would go on to serve valiantly.
Flying escort for heavy bombers, the airmen would become to be known as "Red Tails" or "Red Tail Angels" because of the distinctive crimson paint applied on the tail section of the unit's aircraft.
"The way we were treated, you never thought we would have something like this [movie]," retired Lt. Col. Cornelius Gaither of West Deptford, New Jersey, told Action News.
"We're impressed with the fact that somebody thought enough of us to invest the kind of money that it must have taken to produce this thing and the way it's being distributed," Major Levy said.
Filmmaker George Lucas had to spend $58-million of his own money to bring the movie to the big screen because he couldn't get a major studio to fund it.
"And it helps to complete the incredible story of those who served in World War II and what they helped to save this country and the rest of the world," Derrick Pitts, the President of the Tuskegee Airmen Philadelphia Chapter, said.
The movie 'Red Tails' starring Cuba Gooding Jr. and Terrence Howard opens in theaters on Friday.
philadelphia, pennsylvania, king of prussia, montgomery county, world war two, george lucas, local/state, dann cuellar
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