A new exhibit that’s being built in Des Moines will honor Iowa members of a famous World War Two military unit. The exhibit is an outgrowth of the Fort Des Moines Memorial Park that’s under construction to honor black Iowans in the military.
Memorial Park CEO Robert Morris says it’ll be located outside at the entrance of the Iowa Air National Guard’s 132nd fighter wing headquarters near the Des Moines airport.It is a full-scale model of the P-51-D Mustang fighter — the plane flown by the first all-black World War Two combat fighter squadron known as the “Tuskegee Airmen.”
Twelve Iowans were members of the squadron, including Des Moines native Luther Smith. Smith flew 133 combat missions and was shot down and became a prisoner of war.Smith was one of the airmen selected by President Clinton to attend the 50th anniversary of World War Two in Europe.
Another Iowan is Robert Williams of Ottumwa. His life was the basis of a 1995 HBO movie about the unit. Morris says Iowa has another link to the famed Tuskegee Airmen.The first black officers candidate class in Des Moines during World War One was the unit that opened the door for the airmen.
Morris says the surviving members of the Iowa group will be honored later this year.Morris says seven of the Iowa members of the “Tuskegee Airmen” are still alive and will be honored in a Des Moines dinner in November. Morris says this memorial and others are important because many Americans think blacks had no role in the war due to the segregated army.He says blacks played an important role in the war.
Morris’ father served in an all-black unit in the South Pacific and later died from the malaria he contracted while serving there. The P-51-D Mustang will be one of four planes featured in the exhibit outside the Guard base. The other three will be planes previously flown by guard pilots.