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February 5, 2010
By Alton K. Marsh
When Tuskegee Airman Lee A. Archer Jr., last spoke with an AOPA Pilot editor he had but one request: “Call me a black pilot. There are kids in the cities that need to know it was a black pilot who did these things,” Archer said.
During World War II Archer was credited with three victories as a P–51 Mustang fighter pilot, but he always maintained he had five victories—two in July 1944. That would have made him the only ace among the Tuskegee Airman. When records were checked, but not until 2008, he was credited with a fourth victory; there was insufficient proof to grant him a fifth victory, a move that would have made him an ace. The three victories came in one engagement on October 12, 1944, as a member of the Red Tails, originally the 99th Pursuit Squadron that was later incorporated into the 332nd Fighter Group. During his service he won the Distinguished Flying Cross with an amazing 18 oak leaf clusters.
After leaving the Air Force in 1970 as a lieutenant colonel, Archer become a successful businessman, heading Archer Asset Management, a venture-capital holding firm, and served on the boards of several major corporations.
More important to him was the Lee A. Archer Red Tail Youth Flying Program that teaches young men and women the foundational skills needed to succeed as pilots. Training is done in a Piper Warrior based at Atlantic Aviation at Stewart International Airport, New Windsor, N.Y. The kids in that program know it was a “black pilot who did these things,” a black “ace” from World War II.
AOPA Pilot Senior Editor Alton Marsh has been a pilot since 1970 and has an airline transport pilot certificate and instrument and multiengine flight instructor certificates, aerobatic training, and a commercial seaplane certificate.
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