Retired Lt. Col. Herbert Carter, 93, one of the original Tuskegee Airmen, died Nov. 8 at East Alabama Medical Center in Opelika, Ala. Carter was a member of the original cadre of the 99th Squadron, the first black aviators in the U.S. military.
He enrolled at Tuskegee Institute in Alabama with plans to become a veterinarian. He wanted to be a pilot for the completely different reason than the Air Corps. His plan was to finish animal science and take veterinary medicine. He would get his pilot’s license, go to Texas, and fly from ranch to ranch tending the animals. He did not know the Air Corps was going to get him.
In the 1940’s, African- Americans were prohibited to serve in combat areas of the Army Air Corps. Solely based on their race, they were deemed unfit both physically and mentally to fly. This, however, intrigued Carter. It was the fact they had been told they didn’t have the smarts or the ability to operate something as complicated as an aircraft.
Upon earning his pilot wings, he was sent overseas with his squadron. His unit, and other squadrons of the 332nd Fighter Group, compiled an outstanding record of performances in tactical air and ground support of Allied armies. Carter himself flew 77 combat missions and 200 tactical air-ground Allied support missions over North Africa, Sicily and Italy, crash landing only once.
Carter remained with the newly formed Air Force after the war ended. Many of these airmen ended up in my unit, the Military Air Transport Service (MATS). I flew with many of them. They were very good pilots.
With their contribution to the war effort, Carter and his fellow Tuskegee Airmen shattered the widely held myth that blacks were not capable of serving their country in the arena of flight.
I am very proud of these airmen.