The surviving Iowa members of the famed Tuskegee Airmen, the all-black WorldWar Two fighter unit, returned to Iowa recently for ceremonies in their honor. In part two of his three-part series, Radio Iowa’s Dar Danielson details the harrowing story of the group’s most decorated pilot. Audio: Danielson report 1:29
LutherSmith went from a love of flying as a young boy in Des Moines to become oneof the top members of the famed Tuskegee Airmen of World War Two. Smithtallied 133 missions flying for the groundbreaking all-black unit, shooting two German planes out of the air and blowing up 10 on the ground. It was his last mission on Friday, October 13th that proved to be the toughest and alsowould cement him as an American hero.
As Smith tells it, he was minutes away from finishing his last mission and returning home when a decision by afellow pilot led into a fateful end to his tour of duty. He followed his wingman who decided to strafe a train, instead of flying home. As Smithstrafed an oil car on a train, it exploded, heavily damaging his plane.
Unfortunately, all the cooling fluid leaked out of the plane and the engine seized up. Smith suffered a broken leg in parachuting out of his plane and was captured by the Germans. He says it was the lowest point of his lifeuntil he realized one thing — he was still alive. Smith survived the restof the war in a prison camp, and then went on to a successful post-war carreer as an aviation engineer. Smith returned to Des Moines recently for the dedication of a replica of that same P-51 Mustang he flew in Europe, It’s on display at the Iowa Air National Guard headquarters in Des Moines.