An official website of the United States government
Here's how you know
A .mil website belongs to an official U.S. Department of Defense organization in the United States.
A lock (lock ) or https:// means you’ve safely connected to the .mil website. Share sensitive information only on official, secure websites.

Home : News : Features : Display
NEWS | Feb. 18, 2014

Ezra Hill: The original singing Tuskegee Airman

By Airman 1st Class Areca T. Wilson 633rd Air Base Wing Public Affairs

After the Selective Training and Service Act banned racial discrimination in recruitment in 1940, African-Americans have been allowed to join the military, including the U.S. Air Corps, where they have since paved the way for young, black Airmen today.

U.S. Army Air Corps retired Master Sgt. Ezra M. Hill, an original member of the Tuskegee Airmen, was given the opportunity to be a part of the first black pilot program.

"I was an athlete, so as a kid, my mindset was to get a scholarship," said Hill. "My parents couldn't afford [school] back in those days, and because they didn't give full scholarships, I decided to join the U.S. Army Air Corps."

Hill, a native of Newport News, enlisted in July 1947. After basic training, Hill was assigned to Lockbourne Air Corps Base, Ohio, where he served primarily as a crash and rescue member and Special Services Activities member.

Due to racial segregation, Hill and other African Americans were forced to train and work separately from the white Service members.

"Segregation was natural, I was born in a time when black and white people were separated on buses," said Hill. "When I signed up, I didn't know they were going to assign me with the Tuskegee Airmen."

According to the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force, the USAAF's black fliers, the Tuskegee Airmen, served with distinction in combat and directly contributed to the eventual integration of the U.S. Armed Forces in 1948, with the U.S. Air Force leading the way.

"Their [the Tuskegee Airmen's] mission was about saving American lives in World War II," said Hill. "So seeing fellow Airmen come back and to be with them was great."
During the war, Tuskegee had trained 992 pilots and sent 450 overseas. The 332nd Fighter Group, an all-black group of four squadrons, had shot down 112 enemy aircraft and destroyed another 150 on the ground. They also knocked out more than 600 railroad cars, and sank one destroyer and 40 boats and barges.

"The people saved were all-white crews on the B17s and B24s," said Hill. "Now, white pilots are great-grandfathers and when you meet them at air shows, they thank us because we helped them come home."

After the war, U.S. President Harry S. Truman signed the executive order ending military segregation because, according to the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force, the experiment of the Tuskegee Airmen showed that given equal opportunity and training, African-Americans could fly, command and support combat units as well as any other race.

"A lot of people ask what the Tuskegee Airmen had to do with integration. We had the opportunity to go to Washington. My commander was there and he continued to fight [for equality]," said Hill. "The war was over, but we had another battle in the U.S."

Though Hill was raised in a time when racial tension in American society was high, he is happy he was able to help pave the way for black Service members today. He is most proud to have helped preserve fellow Service members' lives.