FAIRFIELD — The story of America’s first black fighter pilots who broke the racial barrier to serve their country during World War II made it to the stage Monday at Solano Community College.
The 35-minute dramatic narration taken from the memoirs of the Tuskegee Airmen as well as those Army Air Force officers who both supported and opposed them played to a pleased house, many of whom said it taught more of their history.
“I loved it. I am glad that I came,” Aubrey Matthews of Vacaville, past president of the Lee A. Archer Chapter of the Tuskegee Airmen, said of the performance. “I hope they do it again.”
Monday’s performance was hosted by the Jimmy Doolittle Air and Space Museum Education Foundation, which is working to build a new home for its aviation museum next to the Nut Tree Airport in Vacaville.
The idea for the play started with former Travis commander Maj. Gen. Tom Kane, who wanted to see the re-enactment of the Tuskegee history as an ongoing production that could be put on across the nation to both raise awareness of the black fliers and to promote the Jimmy Doolittle Museum.
“We already have interest in it from other places,” said aviation historian David Styles, who later mentioned Stockton, the California State Military Museum in Sacramento and the USS Hornet museum in Alameda as possible venues.
Solano College drama professor George McGuire’s production was based on “Heroes of the Night,” an oral history play on the Tuskegee Airmen that was written by Leslie Currier, managing director of the Marin Shakespeare Company, and performed Nov. 11, 2010.
“It was really a joy to work on this material,” said Currier, who attended Monday’s performance.
The title “Heroes of the Night” comes from the chants the 99th Fighter Squadron airmen set to their cadence while marching between the flight line and the ground schools, according to the memoir written by Tuskegee Airman Lt. Charles Dryden.
The 13-member cast came from McGuire’s Actor Training Program, each of whom took on different roles in the dramatic narration that started with founding of the Tuskegee Institute and went through the struggles the airmen had to fight through to earn the right to fight for their country during World War II.
“What they did was just amazing,” said Adam Wayne Gistarb of Fairfield, one of the actors who played Tuskegee pilot Duane Pearson. “No one thought they could do the job. They did a lot for the African-American community.”
The re-enactment expanded beyond the usual Tuskegee story to include African-American women, such as Mildred Hemmons Carter, who was the first woman to earn her pilot’s license at Tuskegee but was turned down to be a Women Airforce Service Pilot because of her race.
“Learning about her has helped me as a person,” Washington said of the role.
The Tuskegee Airmen started their combat missions flying out of North Africa in mid-1943 and then moved into Italy to fly with the 15th Air Force, escorting bombers to their targets in Germany and Southern Europe. The fliers quickly got a reputation for solidly sticking to the mission and ensuring the bombers they escorted got to their targets and home without loss.
All of the Tuskegee squadrons are still on active duty with the U.S. Air Force.
Reach Ian Thompson at 427-6976 or [email protected] Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/ithompsondr.