Col. Archer, Tuskeegee Ace And Hero, Dies

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Retired Air Force Lt. Colonel Lee A. Archer, a Tuskegee Airman considered to be the only Black ace --downing five enemy aircrafts-- who also broke racial barriers as an executive at a major U.S. company and founder of a venture capital, died last Wednesday Jan. 27, in New York City.

He was 90.

Born on September 6, 1919, in Yonkers, New York and raised in Harlem, Archer left New York University to enlist in the Army Air Corps in 1941 but was rejected for pilot training because the military didn’t allow Blacks to serve as pilots.

In a segregated Military Armed Forces, The Tuskegee Airmen were American’s first Black fighter pilot group in World War II. Archer joined a segregated Army Air Corps unit at Tuskegee, Ala., air base, graduating from pilot training in July 1943. By the spring of 1944 graduates and all Black 332nd Fighter Group had been sent overseas with three fighter squadrons: The 100th, 301st, and 302nd.

Under the command of Colonel Davis, the squadrons were moved to Italy, where the 99th Fighter Squadron, assigned to group on May 1, joined them on June 6 at Ramitelli Airfield, near Termoli on the Adriatic coast from Ramitelli. The Airmen of the 332nd Fighter Group escorted Fifteenth Air Force heavy strategic bombing raids into Czechoslovakia, Austria, Hungary, Poland, and Germany.

Flying escort for heavy bombers, the 332nd earned an impressive combat record. Reportedly, the German Luftwaffe awarded the Airmen the nickname, “Schwarze Vogelmenschen,” or “Black Birdmen.” The Allies called the Airmen “Redtail Angels,” because of the distinctive crimson paint on the vertical stabilizers of the unit’s aircraft.

By the end of the war, Tuskegee Airmen were credited with 109 Luftwaffe aircraft shoot downs. The squadrons of the 332nd FG flew more than 15,000 sorties on 1,500 missions.

In all, 992 pilots were trained in Tuskegee from 1940 to 1946, about 445 deployed overseas, and 150 Airmen lost their lives in accidents or combats. About 119 pilots and 211 ground personnel are still alive from the original crew member number 994 pilots and about 15,000 ground personnel.

After he retired from the military in 1970, Archer joined General Foods Corp., becoming one of the era’s few Black corporate vice presidents of a major American company. 

On March 29, 2007 President George W. Bush presented to about 300 Tuskegee airmen and their widows the Congressional Gold Medal at a ceremony in the US Capitol rotunda. The medal is on display at the Smithsonian Institution; individual honorees received bronze replicas.

Archer is survived by three sons and a daughter. His wife, Ina Archer, died in 1996. Funeral arrangement for Mr. Archer will be held at Riverside Church in Manhattan February 4, 2010 at 11: am.

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