Portland’s Tuskegee Airmen heroes

(PORTLAND TRIBUNE) — A Black Portlander was one of the most heroic and iconic figures in World War II.

Robert Deiz overcame prejudice to become a Tuskegee Airman, a member of the famed all-Black US Air Force fighter squadron. He fought in Europe, achieving the remarkable feat of shooting down two German aircraft on consecutive days.

Perhaps even more remarkable, he also modeled for the famous “Keep us flying!” war bonds poster that capitalized on the squadron’s unexpected and historic popularity to raise funds for the war effort.

Robert’s brother Carl was also a Tuskegee Airman, although he never saw combat after a vision problem was discovered during training. But Carl was also a part of history after WWII as the husband of Mercedes Deiz, the first Black woman admitted to the Oregon State Bar and the first woman of color to become an Oregon judge.

Making history by fighting in World War II

As the Second World War got underway, two opposing, powerful forces crashed together in an historic conflict. These were national racial segregation and the urgent need for skilled, intelligent manpower. In the end, reason and common sense prevailed. Our nation availed itself of the talents of multi-racial, multi-national and multi-cultural men and women. But it did not come easily. In the war years leading up to President Harry Truman’s integration of the American armed services on July 26, 1948. by Executive Order 9981, bigotry, ignorance and racism put up a heck of a fight.

Prior to the WWII, not a single Black aviator flew for the US military, even though many had already earned a civilian pilots’ license. Despite mounting public pressure to do so, it was only in 1939 when public funds were designated for such military training. And then it was only earmarked for private air instruction. Finally, in March, 1941— still some months prior to the United States entering World War II — an all-Black group was organized at Chanute Field, Illinois. It was the 99th Pursuit Squadron and was transferred to Tuskegee, Alabama. But it had no pilots to train.

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