Friday, February 3, 2012

War Heroes Betrayed: The U.S. pilots who risked their lives against the Nazis only to be treated like dirt on their return to segregated America

Fighter pilot Alexander Jefferson was on another combat mission in the clear blue skies over the South of France, this time tasked with strafing German radar stations.

Gunning the powerful Rolls-Royce engine of his P-51 Mustang fighter — named Margo — as he flew low over the trees, the American watched impassively as enemy anti-aircraft fire rose up from the ground and tore into his cockpit.

‘It blew the heck out of the airplane,’ he recalls today, seven decades later. ‘The damn shell came up through the floor and went out the top of the canopy. Fire came up out of the floor, I pulled back on the stick to get some altitude and prepared to bail out. When the canopy popped and I came out, I was only at 800ft.’

It was August 12, 1944 — three days before the Allied invasion of Southern France — and the U.S. fighter pilot’s parachute just had time to open before he landed heavily in some trees and was immediately taken prisoner.

‘A German soldier saw my shoulder bars and he saluted me,’ Mr Jefferson told me this week. After his capture, he spent the rest of the war in Stalag Luft III, one of just three black men among 5,000 PoWs in the camp made famous by The Great Escape.

Sadly, when he made it back to New York, his homecoming was not nearly so joyous as it should have been. Read More