The Tuskegee Airmen (1995) Script

(IMITATES PLANE FLYING)


Hey. Hey!

Hey!

Hey!

Wait for me!

RADIO REPORTER: Franklin Delano Roosevelt will address the nation.

The President, speaking from the Diplomatic Reception Room in the White House residence, will be delivering one of his familiar fireside chats, and is expected to talk to the American people on the year-old war which began with the sneak attack by the Japanese in Hawaii on December 7th of last year.

Ladies and gentlemen, the President of the United States.

ROOSEVELT: My fellow Americans, this war is a new kind of war.

It is different from all other wars of the past not only in its methods and weapons, but also in its geography.

It is warfare in terms of every continent, every island, every sea, every air-lane in the world.

WOMAN: Hannibal, the neighbors are waiting to say good-bye.

REPORTER: The United States president, Delano Roosevelt.

The President, sitting in his favorite rocking chair in front of a cozy fire on this chilly day...

(RADIO REPORT CONTINUES INDISTINCTLY)


Thanks, Dad.

Hello, nice of you to come.

Hi, how are you? Hi.

(INDISTINCT CHATTERING)

HANNIBAL SR: Come on, son, you're gonna miss the train.

Okay.

HANNIBAL: Thanks. I'm gonna miss you.

MAN: Make it back. HANNIBAL: I promise I will.

WOMAN: God bless you.

Bye. Bye-bye.

(TRAIN HORN BLARES)

CONDUCTOR: Chicago!

Next stop, Chicago! Keep your tickets to reboard.

Next stop, Chicago.

You see any lipstick on me?

Lipstick? No. No? Frances sure did.

Boy, that girl's got eagle eyes when it comes to spotting lipstick on me.

If I ain't got nothing on me, she probably slapped it off.

Is that seat taken? Have a sit-down.

CONDUCTOR: Tickets, please.

Stick and Rudder? You a pilot?

No?

Have your tickets ready, everyone. Me neither.

But I will be as soon as Uncle Sam finishes kicking my ass and pinning them wings on me. You fellas on your way to Tuskegee?

That's right. (LAUGHS) You too? Finally.

Yes. I am.

Excuse me?

A licensed pilot.

Damn. I bet he didn't even have to take the test.

Billy Roberts. On the block, they call me Train, as in "A-Train"? You know, quickest way to Harlem, you know.

Block? Lenox and 125th.

What block you from? I'm from a small town in Iowa. Ottumwa.

Iowa?

I didn't know they had colored folk in Iowa.

Now I guess I got living proof sitting here right next to me. (CHUCKLES)

What'd you get on that exam there, Iowa?

Ninety-eight. CONDUCTOR: All aboard!

Ninety-eight. That's very good. Oh, so you did take that test?

That is very good, you know? But it ain't as good as mine, which is 1-0-0.

But congratulations on being second best.

Here we go!

Come on, get up. Come on.

Huh?

What? Huh? Move it. That's what.

Hey. Get your stuff and move it up front.

Now. Let's go.

Move it, boy. All right, all right!

I ain't gonna ask you to do it again, damn it. Well, excuse me, please.

Where are we? I don't know.

Why are we getting off the train? LEWIS: Hey.

See that?

The car you were on is now for white folks only.

That's why you're getting off. OFFICER: Keep in line now.

One behind the other.

(DOGS BARKING)

Keep it tight.

HANNIBAL: German prisoners. OFFICER: Make way.

Well, I'll be damned.

(SPEAKS IN GERMAN)

Hey.

Jim Crow car's in the front, boys. WALTER: Shit.

We're gonna give up our seats for German prisoners of war?

The train's leaving, boy. Either get on or back off.

All aboard!


GUARD: Hold up.

(WHISTLE BLOWS)

Keep going.

That's me. Just like a raven.

(CADETS CHANTING INDISTINCTLY)

MAN: Get down! Let's go! Come on!

MAN: Let's go. Drill sergeants, give me two lines of six.

(DRILL SERGEANT YELLING)

Get the lead out. Get the lead out. Let's go, move!

Put your bag behind you. SERGEANT: Behind you!

Turn to your right. Your military right.

Pick your bag up with your right hand.

Follow me. Go left. Go left.

Left, right, left, right, left, right, left.

Cadets, march.

Left, left, left.

Halt. Turn to your left.

Push your man on your left to your left.

Push him on. Push him on. Come on, come on. Move over. Move over.

Put your bag down on your right.

Post.

Gentlemen, welcome to Tuskegee Army Air Field.

I'm Colonel Noel Rogers, the commanding officer.

This is Major Sherman Joy, director of training, and Lieutenant Glenn, liaison officer.

It is the task of myself, Major Joy, Lieutenant Glenn and others at this training facility to train and evaluate you men as potential combat pilots.

There have been many obstacles on the road to getting you here.

Now that you are here, the only obstacle you will encounter will be how quick you learn, how well you obey orders and how expert you fly.

If I am the first to tell you that your being here is an experiment, take time to understand just what that means.

There are people in very high places wondering if this will succeed.

If I and my staff have anything to say about it, it will.

However, we will cut no corners.

We will allow no favors.

Our business is killing our enemies from the air as efficiently and expeditiously as we know how.

Now, assuming you make it through this training, that task will be your honor.

Lieutenant. Major.

Why did you join the Air Corps?

Cadet?

Sir.

I don't like repeating myself, Cadet.

To serve my country, sir.

Your country?

Boy, are you stupid? No, sir.

You people.

Well, don't you know how bad we treat you people?

Serving your country. This ain't your country.

Your country's full of apes and gorillas, malaria, missionaries.

Ain't no gorillas in Harlem.

Why'd you join the Air Corps, boy? This country has enemies, sir, and there are people who need protecting from those enemies.

What people, nigger? All people, sir.

To my knowledge, the Germans aren't sparing the coloreds.

To my knowledge, the colored aren't up to fighting the Germans, let alone beating them. Max Schmeling found out differently, sir.

Well, you know what? My job is to see if you Joe Louises can fly.

Now, in case the colonel gave you the wrong impression, let me clear it up.

You are nothing

(WHISPERS) special.

You just heard two very different speeches from two very different officers.

I hope you were paying attention.

It is my job as liaison officer to ease your transition to military life.

Reveille's at 0600. PT's at 0630, and breakfast is at 0730.

At the top of the military command structure is President Roosevelt as commander in chief.

At the bottom is you, the cadet.

Everything you need can and will be found on this base.

Everything you need to know has the words "U.S. Army Air Corps" written on the cover. If it doesn't, you don't need it.

GUARD 1: We got weekends.

GUARD 2: I kind of figured that would happen.

GUARD 1: Yeah?

(CADETS CHATTERING INDISTINCTLY)

BILLY: (WHISPERS) Hey, Iowa. HANNIBAL: Yeah?

BILLY: You ready for all of this?

I mean, (MIMICS JOY) We in the Army now, boy.

(HANNIBAL CHUCKLES)

HANNIBAL: Well, it's not Ottumwa, but I've been ready for this for a long time.

Hey, what about you, Walter? What, Stick?

Stick was born ready.

He probably popped out his mama with a full bomb load.

(CADETS CHUCKLE)

Come graduation, none of y'all's names will be in front of mine. Oh, is that right?

Guaranteed.

Well, what might that name be there, Reverend Bookworm?

Stick or Rudder?

Peoples.

Walter Derrick III.

Aeronautical engineer.

Hannibal Lee, Jr. Pre-med.

Lewis Johns. English Literature.

William "A-Train" Roberts. Political Science.

Leroy Jonas Cappy. Art History.

Andrew Turner. Sociology.

Charles Tate. Halfback, all-American.

William Pitts. Economics.

(BUGLE SOUNDS)

Class. Attention!

Take your seats.

Take one and pass them back.

CADETS: This isn't right. What is this?

Permission to speak, sir. What is it, Cadet?

Sir, I believe we've already taken this test before. Yep.

And I believe you'll take it again.

May the cadet ask why, sir?

You don't have time for an explanation, Cadet.

You have one hour for this exam. Begin and end on my mark.

JOY: Name an element.

Cadet Lee. Water, sir.

Any others? Cadet Johns?

LEWIS: Earth, sir. Cadet Peoples?

WALTER: Air, sir.

JOY: Cappy. Fire, sir.

JOY: Water, air, earth and fire.

Of these elements, I direct your attention to air and fire.

Although it is your privilege to live in the air, it is your destiny to die by fire.

Many of you will wash out before you ever set foot in an airplane.

Others will die during primary flight training, still others in advanced.

When you die, we will cross off your name, close ranks and carry on.

Now, any of you ever been up in an airplane before?

Yes, sir. When I was in college, sir. I have a pilot's license, sir.

Is that right? Yes, sir.

Well, follow me, Mr. Lindbergh.

JOY: All right, Peoples, let's see what you're made of.

He's trying to wear Stick out. Doing it on purpose, too.

JOY: Yell when you've had enough, flyboy.


How you doing back there?

What about a loop?


I want you to read your flight manual cover to cover and know it like the Holy Bible.

Yes, sir. That goes for all of you. Is that clear?

ALL: Yes, sir!

(SIGHS)

(MIMICS JOY) Hey, you, Cadet Peoples. Why'd you join the Air Corps, boy?

I ain't thinking about Major Joy. He's just another door in the way.

Another cracker in the box. Another pecker in the woods.

(ALL LAUGHING)

(MOCKINGLY) I's just want to serve my country, sir.

What country? You don't have a country.

Goddamn uppity nigger son of a bitch.

I's real sorry, sir. Your country.

(ALL LAUGHING)

Uppity niggers turn into strange fruit where I come from.

Strange what?

"Nigger hanging from a tree

"Just swinging from a hangman's vine is he

"Talk Back Joe was his name, all three

"Massa shut his mouth Then turned to me

"Lord, Massa shut his mouth

"Then he turned to me"

Did you learn that in English Lit, Johns? No.

My great-granddaddy told me that sitting on his knee.

Hmm.

It's a hell of a bedtime story.

As director of training, I assumed I had the authority to conduct any testing I thought necessary, sir.

That assumption was incorrect, Major. These men have all previously been tested.

What possible reason could you have testing them again?

The previous test scores themselves, sir. Nineties, 100s.

I've long had my suspicions about the accuracy of those scores.

You think they cheated to get here? A lot of people dream to be pilots, Colonel.

Many will stop at nothing to become one.

Eliminating dishonest, un-trainable cadets will save my staff time and aggravation.

I see.

Here are the answers to your retest.

I had the results sent over as soon as they were compiled.

I, too, have curiosity, Major, though I suspect my motives are somewhat different.

Cadet Lewis Johns, 98.

Cadet Billy Roberts, 100.

Cadet Walter Peoples, 100. Cadet Hannibal Lee, 100.

I could go on. No one scored less than 95.

Sir, these people are taking up training slots that would be better filled by real pilots.

Damn it, sir, there's a war on. Yes, Major, there is, and I'd prefer that war was not on this base. That'll be all, Major.

JOY: PT-17!

Fuel capacity and engine. Cadet Johns.

Fuel, 46 gallons. Engine, 220 horsepower, continental, sir!

Left spin recovery technique? Cadet Peoples.

Right rudder, stop rotation, sharp forward stick, pull out from dive, sir.

All right. Let's go up.

INSTRUCTOR: Pay attention, Cadet.

Nose down! Down! Yes, sir!

Let's do it now! Down!

(RATTLING)

Recover, Cadet! LEWIS: I'm trying, I'm trying!

Nose up. Nose down. Watch your air speed.

INSTRUCTOR: Pick up, damn it! Pick up! Let go of the stick! Let go, I got it!

Step on the ball. I'd like to step on his balls.

INSTRUCTOR: Let go! Give me the stick!

HANNIBAL: Lewis!

Cadet Lewis Johns just taught you men the most important lesson you'll learn here at Tuskegee.

If you don't believe in God, you'd better find a damned good substitute.

As you were.


(DOOR OPENS)

Hey, you missed chow.

I wasn't hungry.

Can I give you a hand? I don't need a hand!

What the hell is eating you, Cappy?

Three more washed out today. Bradley, Wade and Patterson.

Wade just broke down and walked off the base.

And Lewis? I can't get him out of my head.

You're gonna get your chance to solo, Leroy. You're gonna make it. We're all gonna make it.

That's bullshit, Hannibal! And you know it. We're not all gonna make it.

When we first got here, this barracks was filled. Look at it now.

One-third of our guys are gone and we're only halfway through this program.

So what? Big deal.

I know I'm gonna make it, Leroy. That's all that matters.

What about you? You gonna make it? (DOOR OPENS)

I don't know. What do you mean, you don't know?

Look, I said, I don't know, okay? No.

It's not okay. It's the wrong damn answer.

Now, the question is, are you gonna make it? 'Cause if you don't think you will, you won't.

And then you will have failed.

You will have failed your family, you will have failed your friends, and most importantly, you will have failed yourself.

Can you live with that? No.

(DOOR OPENS)

Are you going to make it?

Yeah. I'm gonna make it. You say it like you mean it, Cadet.

(FORCEFULLY) I'm going to make it.

(UNIT SINGING FIGHTING 99TH FIGHT SONG)


It's all yours! Yes, sir!


Nice turn.


HANNIBAL: Begging the major's pardon, sir, but why are we stopping?

Did the cadet do something wrong, sir?

I'm giving you the opportunity of killing yourself without taking me with you.

Sir? You're soloing, Cadet.

Give me three circuits around the pattern, each to a full stop.

Yes, sir.


(CHUCKLES)

(CADETS CHEERING) (CADETS LAUGHING)

(CADETS EXCLAIMING)

(CADETS APPLAUDING)

CADET: Damn.

Any questions on the film you just saw?

No questions?

Timidness is a characteristic that gets fighter pilots killed, gentlemen.

Sir, where's Major Joy?

I always assumed that he was teaching air combat techniques.

And why is that, Cadet?

Because he's white and I'm colored? Come on, spit it out, man.

No disrespect. It's just a matter of experience, sir.

Another assumption.

Well,

I'm going to give you the facts, Cadet.

Out of 150 U.S. Army officers on this base, you are looking at the only one with actual air combat experience.

I have three 109 kills, and I've had a Spitfire and a Hurricane shot out from under me.

Both times behind enemy lines, and both times I escaped.

But the Air Corps didn't allow colored fliers.

How'd you do that? He went north.

Royal Canadian Air Force. Right, Lieutenant? Forty-eight missions.

LEROY: Whew.

Now, if you don't think I have anything to teach you, you are free to walk out of that door.

My job is to teach you basic air combat tactics.

Your next training machine, the AT-6.

Bank without a turn. If you learn nothing else, learn this one.

It will save your life. It starts with a hard bank.

HANNIBAL ON RADIO: Hey, Peoples, you're supposed to be trying to get away.

WALTER ON RADIO: Yeah? Well, you're looking at the man who put the "dog" in "dogfight."

I've got your ass now, Walter.

Come on, Walter, you didn't expect me to fall for that.

Fall for this.

HANNIBAL: Hey, where the hell are you?

WALTER: Look behind your ass, Iowa.

Bang. You are dead.

HANNIBAL: Damn. Where 'd you learn that?

WALTER: Just made it up, man. Just made it up.

HANNIBAL: Come on, Peoples. You don't expect me to believe you just made that up.

Where'd you learn it? WALTER: The same place I learned this.

Whoo! (LAUGHS)

HANNIBAL: Hey, you're too low.

We can't buzz the field. Walter!

(WALTER WHOOPING)

(MEN YELLING)

WALTER: What's a little victory roll between friends?

JOY: I don't see that we have much choice, Colonel.

I've already lost one instructor when that boy Johns crashed and burned.

This last stunt could have cost us another plane and pilot.

Besides, I've had my doubts about Cadet Peoples for some time.

He and that boy Hannibal are showboats with attitudes that get men killed.

And what do you think, Lieutenant?

It was a damn fool thing to do, sir, but I've seen the Air Corps overlook worse.

Would you trust that pilot on your wing in combat?

He's one of the few that I would trust.

Well, maybe there's a reason for that, apart from his flying abilities.

I've flown with white pilots in actual combat who don't have his skills, sir.

When these men arrived, I told them no corners would be cut for them.

They're gonna have to be held to the highest standards of the service.

But is it fair for that standard to be higher than any other group of men?

It was simple youthful exuberance, Colonel.

I'm doing a difficult job as well as I can, Lieutenant.

That'll be all, gentlemen.

High test scores don't mean everything, do they, Colonel?

I said that will be all, Major.

GLENN: Cadets, attention.

I'm sorry.

Lieutenant... I wish there was something I could do.

Walter?

Dismissed!

Walter! Walter!

There's little margin for error here.

I don't see any margin at all, sir.

(INDISTINCT CHATTERING)

Permission to speak, sir.

What is it? I made a mistake, sir. It won't happen again.

That's right, Peoples, it won't. You're out.

Colonel, I did something really stupid. I'll take any punishment you give, but please don't put me out of the program, not now.

Son, my hands are tied.

I can't go home like this. Home? If it was up to me, boy, you'd be going into the infantry. Major!

I got a right to fight for what I believe in like anybody else.

I'm the best pilot in this damn place. JOY: Get a grip!

Peoples! ROGERS: Peoples!

GLENN: Walter! JOY: Peoples!

Peoples, get back here! Peoples! CADET: Don't do it, Walter!

HANNIBAL: Walter!

WALTER: Come graduation day, no name called will be higher than mine.

Guaranteed.

(MEN CLAMORING)

Peoples, you get your ass down here right now.

That's an order!

Peoples!

(ON RADIO) Peoples!

Pull up, Walter.

Crazy nigger.

(SIREN WAILING)


(SNIFFS)

(SIGHING)

HANNIBAL: Hey, you all right?

Look at that, huh?

(HANNIBAL CHUCKLES)

Took it right after his solo. Yeah.

They're gonna send it home to his folks.

Give it a rest, Train.

Let them pack up his things. Billy, it's not our job.

No! Back off, okay?

No! No! They'll take care of it, I told you!

No! No! They killed him. Hannibal, they killed him.

Major Joy set out to break him, and he did.

Just as clean as if he put a carbine to his head.

He was my friend, too.

Get off me. You know he's right, Hannibal.

You know, this shit doesn't make any sense. Why they even bothering?

I mean, they might as well just forget it and send us home.

You want to go home, Cappy? Shove off! You too, Train, go on.

Tuck your tail between your legs and run back to Harlem.

Make Major Joy happy. Me too, for that matter. I'd sooner be here by my lonesome than to play with a pair of jokers who can't figure out the game.

Don't you see that's what he wants us to do? He wants us to quit.

He wants us all to wash out. I'm not gonna give him the satisfaction.

I came here for one reason.

To do one thing. To learn how to fly. I'm gonna do that.

And I ain't gonna let you stop me. I didn't say that.

Not you, not Major Joy, not the goddamn commander in chief himself.

You reading me, Train? GLENN: Cadets, attention.

What's going on? Nothing, sir. Just a little discussion, sir.

Well, while you're cleaning up, add this to your discussion.

You lost a friend today, and I understand how you feel.

But you better get over it. Quick!

Friends die in our business, and for a lot of reasons, and the only protection you have against losing one is not to have any.

As you were.

What's wrong, Cappy? I'm losing manifold pressure.

Roberts, break formation. Yes, sir.

LEROY: Lieutenant Glenn, it's pretty bad.

I gotta put her down.

GLENN: We passed a country road about a mile back.

Stay with him, Lee. HANNIBAL: Yes, sir.

Coming around on your other wing.

Hang on, Cappy.

(PRISONERS GRUNTING)

Keep working up that hill!

(PLANE SPUTTERING)

It's our boys.

BOSS: Get off the road!

Give them room! I said move it, damn it!

(ENGINE STOPPING)

(SIGHS)

Just a little engine trouble.

Son of a bitch. They're niggers.

(EXHALES)

(CHAINS CLINKING)

They's colored fliers.

JOY: Lieutenant Roberts. Congratulations.

JOY: Lieutenant Thompson, sir.

ROGERS: Congratulations, Lieutenant.

JOY: Lieutenant Cappy.

Congratulations, Lieutenant. LEROY: Thank you, sir.

Lieutenant Lee.

Congratulations, Lieutenant. Thank you, Colonel.

Thank you, Lieutenant.

ROGERS: What you men have accomplished, given the odds against it, your friends back home could only dream about, and your families watching today never imagined.

You are among a select few who will ever know the honor of serving their country in the realm of flight.

You are now United States Army Air Corps aviators.

For that achievement, I congratulate you.

(BAND PLAYING UPBEAT TUNE)

(PEOPLE CHATTERING)

(FIGHTING 99TH FIGHT SONG PLAYING)

ROOSEVELT: We Americans will contribute unified acceptance of sacrifice and of effort.

That means a national unity that can know no limitations of race or creed or selfish politics.

The American people expect that much from themselves.

MAN: Gentlemen, this meeting is adjourned.

(INDISTINCT CHATTER)

CASSIDY: I understand your position, Beach, but it's a very sticky subject, particularly in the negro press.

And I've said this committee should not be concerned with the negro press.

However, I know a dead horse when I beat one, (CHUCKLES)

So I think this might inject a little courage into the more timid of our colleagues.

What's that? It's a scientific study that I commissioned by the anthropology department of one of our most prestigious universities.

The credentials of its authors are as unimpeachable as its conclusions.

Look at this. "The intellectual capacity of the negro

"in respect to the operation of complicated machinery, "i.e. A frontline war plane, is questionable."

And down here. "Smaller blood vessels in the negro

"translates to restricted blood supply and problems in severe maneuvers."

There are documented reports of mysterious training crashes at Tuskegee.

Blacking out and losing control might very well explain them.

Might very well.

When does the full committee get the report? In due time.

Right now it's under lock and key.

I got a few more ducks to line up before I make my move and see that this Tuskegee nonsense is finally brought to an end.

As God is my witness, those boys will never see combat.

(INSTRUCTOR INSTRUCTING)

CADET: Yes, sir!

General Stevenson, I wish I had more time to prepare for this visit, sir.

So in the hell do I, Colonel.

(CAMERA CLICKS)

ROGERS: Mrs. Roosevelt.

Colonel Rogers is the commanding officer here at Tuskegee.

As I mentioned on the phone, the First Lady is here to take a look at the operations, Colonel.

Well, maybe a little background might be in order, ma'am, before we start with a tour of the facilities.

The field sits on 1,600 acres, and is one of the largest in the country.

How would you gauge the progress of your colored fliers, Colonel?

I'd say their progress is commensurate with the standards of the training command, ma'am.

Plain English, Colonel. Does that mean you are or aren't satisfied?

I am very satisfied, ma'am. Good.

Then I want a ride in one of your airplanes.

Major, take the first lady up in that Stearman over there.

Take a couple of loops around the field... No.

I want to ride with him.

Is that a problem, gentlemen? I thought you said these men were trained.

Surely the addition of an old lady in the rear seat won't unravel that confidence.

No, ma'am. Good.

And when I'm finished, you can also tell me why these pilots are still here, and not overseas fighting for their country like the rest of our boys.


Mrs. Roosevelt, Lieutenant Lee.

Good afternoon, young man. Good afternoon, ma'am.

It's turned into a beautiful day for an airplane ride.

Yes, ma'am.

That isn't who I think it is, is it?

Lieutenant Lee's about to make all your dreams come true.

LEROY: What do you mean? Take a good look around you, gentlemen.

I suspect Alabama will soon become a fond memory.

PHOTOGRAPHER: Hold it, please.

Smile.

(CAMERA CLICKS)


(INDISTINCT CHATTER)

(BLOWS)

Don't tell me I spelled your name wrong, sir. I mean, how can you screw up "Lee"?

No, you spelled it right. I just never had my own plane before.

Well, it's not yours, Lieutenant. It's mine. I put your name on it so you'd think it's yours.

Sergeant Toby Wills, sir.

Your crew chief. Call me Tank. Nice to meet you, Tank. I'm Hannibal.

Don't you worry, I'll take care of your plane just like it was my own.

I want to welcome you men to North Africa. For those of you who don't know me, I am Lieutenant Colonel Benjamin O. Davis, commander of the 99th Pursuit Squadron.

Tomorrow morning you'll get an opportunity to meet the entire 33rd Fighter Group.

Despite the long and hard road you've traveled, and the many obstacles that have been thrown in your path, you have arrived.

(SOLDIERS CHUCKLE)

LIEUTENANT 1: Yes, we have. I want you to know I'm proud of you.

Welcome to the war, gentlemen. LIEUTENANT 2: Thank you.

MAN: Yeah, that's a long day, man. I'll be glad to get some sleep.

BILLY: Now, there's a class act.

You said it, brother. B.O. Davis.

You know, he's a lot shorter than what I pictured.

Yeah, well, West Point will do that to a colored man.

(CHUCKLES) What do you mean? It means that he was silenced the entire time that he was at West Point. Nobody talked to him. But he never gave up.

That's right. Just kept on in.

It's like Walter said, just a matter of focus. LIEUTENANT 1: Hey, Train, we're starting up!

Poker calls, gents. Gotta take the pot. Good luck, Billy.

Huh.

You know, it's so beautiful out here. I should have brought my watercolors.

Yeah. Never know there was a war going on.

OFFICER: You guys stay closer in formation. MAN: Yes, sir.

Well, time to pay the dancers. BILLY: You got that right.

How you doing? Ready, Cap. What you got?

LIEUTENANT 1: Just keep your head up. LIEUTENANT 2: A little nervous.

MAN 1: Lift-off time is 0700. Lieutenant?

MAN 2: What have we got here? It's the buffalo soldiers.

(ALL LAUGHING)

A day late and a dollar short.

Take a seat, Lieutenant. Yes, sir.

(WHITE PILOTS CHUCKLING)

I guess we can begin our briefing.

Why wasn't I informed that the briefing had been pushed up?

You and your men are expected to read the board just like everybody else.

The board said "0600." I'd look again, Colonel.

They changed it.

Same old, same old. Might as well be back in Alabama.

Lee, Roberts, Cappy. HANNIBAL: Sir.

We're flying, and you're up. Follow me and I'll brief you on the way.

HANNIBAL: Yes, sir.

(ENGINE WHINES)

(INDISTINCT YELLING IN DISTANCE)


DAVIS: We've got a rail yard near SÚtif that has to be taken out.

German target divisions have been kicking the shit out of our ground forces, but are now low on fuel and munitions. G2 thinks this yard is the supply depot.

Our job is to make those supplies disappear.


Target's coming up just ahead, over that ridge.

HANNIBAL: We gotta knock out the German supply trains in SÚtif.

BILLY: Five miles to target.

HANNIBAL: Okay, let's show them what we 're made of.

LEROY: Go get them, Hannibal!

HANNIBAL: Easy, Hannibal, easy. Ready, and fire!

(RAPID GUNFIRE)

Yeah!

BILLY: Yeah, buddy, let's hit them again.

Beautiful. Beautiful! Look at that!

(LAUGHS)

Yeah. Come on, you son of a bitch! I got your mama!

(PILOTS LAUGHING)

(PILOTS CHEERING)

BILLY: That's it, that's it.

Yeah. PILOTS: Yeah.

PILOT 1: Very nice.

PILOT 2: Wow.

All right.

For your first mission, you guys did damn good.

I see Lieutenant Glenn trained you well. I like that.

Thank you, sir. Nine months of practice didn't hurt, sir.

I'd check that attitude, Lieutenant.

Go get your sleep. We have a briefing tomorrow at 0530.

DAVIS: Remember to check your fuel.

This one will stretch our range. Don't suck your tanks dry.

Or it's a long camel ride back home.

You fellows stay in tight formation. There's safety in numbers.

Safety from what, sir? A circling buzzard? I haven't seen a Jerry since we've been here.

That doesn't mean they're not out there.

Two targets this morning, the German airfield, then the power station.

BILLY: Turn out the lights. HANNIBAL: Excuse me, Colonel Davis.

DAVIS: Yes? When do you think we'll be seeing some air combat, sir?

You in a hurry to die, Lieutenant Lee?

No, sir, but we've been doing nothing but ground runs.

The white units have already rotated out to France. Why haven't we?

If you're not in a hurry to die, you must have something to prove.

With all due respect to the colonel as a West Point graduate, your father being the first negro appointed general in the United States military, sir, I think we all have something to prove.

Don't you dream of jeopardizing this mission with your glory-seeking.

Do you understand?

Yes, sir.

LEROY: Going after the first target.

We caught them on the ground. BILLY: Clip his wings, Cappy. Yahoo!

HANNIBAL: Ready or not, I'm rolling in.

I have a little something from Uncle Sam for you, Jerry.

Take that, you Nazi bastard!

BILLY: I'm going after the power station!

I got it! I got it! I got it! I got it!

HANNIBAL: All right, let's head for home.


(INDISTINCT CHATTER)

BILLY: Hey! Hey, fellas!

Colonel wants to see us. HANNIBAL: Us?

Us. Yeah, you guys, me.

Lieutenants Lee, Cappy and Roberts reporting as ordered, General.

Gentlemen, relax, have a seat.

(STEVENSON CLEARS THROAT)

I'm General Stevenson. This is Senator Conyers.

General, I believe we've met before. It was back at Tuskegee with Mrs. Roosevelt.

You're the one who took her up?

Yes, sir. She could barrel roll with the best of us.

And just what would that mean?

It's a maneuver, sir.

Gentlemen, we all have things to do, so let's move on.

The senator and I are on a final swing of a fact-finding tour through the war zone.

Wanting to see how you boys are settling in.

We've been getting reports which require some clarification.

We have critics back in the States, Lieutenant.

I wasn't aware of any criticism, sir. Well, let me make you aware.

"Inability to locate targets. Failure to press home attacks

"or find secondary targets when the first is obscured.

"Attitude problems with fellow officers. Poor formation discipline, cowardice."

Excuse me? Lieutenant.

Senator, I can... I'm here to talk with the pilots.

I'm not interested in practiced excuses. I thought I made that clear.

LEROY: So where do you guys think they'll reassign Colonel Davis?

We don't know that he's been reassigned. Well, I don't see him out here anywhere.

They're probably gonna punish him by sticking him behind a desk.

Lord knows it's the worst thing you could do to a pilot.

Boy, it would sure as shooting kill me.

Shit. Bandits, 2 o 'clock.

109s!

LEROY: Finally, some action. Let's get them, boys.

Leroy.

Cappy, get back in formation now!

They're probably just recon. They won't attack us if we stick together.

LEROY: Here's our chance for some kills. Come on!

They're gonna isolate him. They're gonna cut him off.

(RAPID GUNFIRE)

HANNIBAL: Damn. Come on, Train, let's go.

Cappy, there's one on your tail.

LEROY: Get him off me, Hannibal. I got this one.

Hannibal, help me.

(BULLETS RICOCHETING)

(LEROY GROANS)

I'm hit. HANNIBAL: Hang on, Cappy.

Come on, Jerry, you want to fight? Fight me. I'll give you a fight.

I got you dead in my sights, you son of a bitch.

BILLY: Whoo! The Jerries are running home! HANNIBAL: Cappy? Cappy, talk to me.

LEROY: Oh, shit! I'm burning! Hannibal, help me!

HANNIBAL: Leroy, don't panic. Don't panic, Leroy.

LEROY: Ah!

BILLY: Cappy, jump, jump!

HANNIBAL: Bail, Leroy, bail!

Cappy!


(SNIFFS)

MAN: In terms of character, the negro has been observed to be both childish and impulsive.

Now, gentlemen, you must agree that this report is highly inflammatory...

I have on my desk a war department memo on a colored pilot recently shot down in North Africa after breaking formation.

As a description, "impulsive" quite appears the appropriate terminology.

Maybe, but this report smacks of a singular point of view.

Well, all points of view are singular if they're not to your liking, Senator.

Meanwhile, I've got constituents who wonder why, when they're suffering from war rationing and over-taxation, why we're spending their tax dollars on a bunch of college-educated niggers who have convinced the press that they can fly expensive war planes.

CASSIDY: Gentlemen.

This experiment certainly had noble beginnings, but the failures are evident and glaring.

Perhaps the thing to do is abandon this project until after the war, when calmer conditions will allow for a more thoughtful approach.

Where are you going?

To give a representative of the accused an opportunity to defend himself.

MAN: We don't need to turn this into some kind of...

(MEN MURMURING)

General Stevenson you know. This is Lieutenant Colonel Benjamin O. Davis, the commanding officer of the squadron in question.

Be seated.

Colonel, you are aware of the accusations, such as malaise and fatigue in the face of little enemy contact?

We've been in continuous combat for months with no replacements, sir. My men are tired.

Other units get four fresh bodies a month, but something always seems to go wrong with our paperwork or movement orders.

How many missions have your men flown, Colonel?

Most have flown well over 50, which is the standard cut-off point in which white pilots are sent home.

And your men are still flying? They don't know what else to do with us, sir.

White pilots rotate back to the States as instructors, but since the Army won't allow colored pilots to train white cadets... Nine months of training, countless missions in Africa, and not one air-to-air kill, isn't that right? We can't fight what we don't see.

We've been stationed so far from frontline action, we rarely encounter an enemy plane, let alone the opportunity to engage one.

You recently lost a pilot who cut and ran from, what, an imaginary Messerschmitt?

Those men understand Lieutenant Cappy's action was a mistake.

Mistakes are all we see, young man. Late for mission briefings, piss-poor discipline and leadership, and nothing but excuses.

What I see is a unit that's an embarrassment to the Air Corps, to the American people and to themselves.

Might I remind you, gentlemen, that this war is by no means won, and this sad experiment is a drain and a hindrance to that effort.

My vote is that we abandon the project and move the agenda.

(MURMURING)

All we asked for was a chance to prove ourselves, a fair and impartial opportunity. We thought we had that chance.

But you invite us to a poker game, hand us a fixed deck, and then wonder why we can't win?

Young man, we really don't... Let him finish, sir.

(DAVIS SIGHS)

Every colored pilot in the 99th went through his own private hell to wear those wings.

Every one of those men carry not only the burden of their dreams of becoming American military aviators, but the hopes of an entire people as well.

Am I the only one in this room that understands just what that means?

I was brought up to believe that beneath it all, Americans are a decent people, with an abiding sense of integrity and fair play.

The cheers I heard across this country when Joe Louis and Jesse Owens humiliated Hitler's master race didn't just come from proud colored folks.

They came from everyone. How are we to interpret that?

As a United States Army officer who gladly puts his life on the line every day, there's no greater conflict within me.

How do I feel about my country, and how does my country feel about me?

Are we only to be Americans when the mood suits you?

A fair and impartial opportunity is all we ask.

Nothing that you yourselves wouldn't demand.


BUTLER: All right, Vance, we got another one coming in high over here!

KANSAS: Jonsey, he's on your side, pick him off!

I got two of them breaking left! Son of a bitch!

WALLY: I lost him.

PILOT 1: I got one at 9 o'clock. Oh, my God, no, no! Ahhh!

WESLEY: Number three's losing MP.

BUTLER: Damn it! I'm feathering.

(SPUTTERING)

WALLY: Look out, there's another one.

(SCREAMING)

WESLEY: Oh, man, he's hit bad!

Kansas, there's all kind of hits back at the wing.

Kansas!

KANSAS: I got two Jerries coming in hot!

Shit, I'm going back. No, no, I need you up here.

Damn it.

Where the hell is our escort? I never saw them!

Son of a bitch!

(GUNFIRE CONTINUES)

(BUTLER AND GUNNER GRUNTING)

Hold on! Hold on back there! Shit! Shit. Vance, let's get this thing home.

Okay. We're going home. We're going home.


BUTLER: Master switch off.

(SIRENS WAILING)

Shit. God. Wally. Wally.

Kansas? Kansas?

If it's any consolation, the word's in. It was a good strike.

I lost half my crew up there, Colonel. In my book, that's the shit end of the stick.

Our fighter escort never even made the rendezvous point.

Said they ran into some trouble enroute, took some pretty heavy casualties of their own.

Damn! They always got some sort of excuse.

Me, I got parts of four kids all over that Italian countryside

'cause of their limp-dick excuses. Captain, you're forgetting yourself.

DAVIS: Attention!

Take your seats, gentlemen. Son of a bitch, the colonel's gone full bird.

I have good news, and I have not-so-good news.

The good news. We've been reassigned to the European theater. We're going to Italy.

Finally, we're gonna see some action, huh? Yes.

However, there will be some changes. Once in Italy, the 99th Pursuit Squadron will be joined by three new squadrons from Tuskegee.

The 100th, 301st and 302nd Fighter Squadrons will now comprise the 332nd Fighter Group.

They're all colored units. We're gonna be segregated again.

In addition, our mission has changed from dive-bombing to bomber escort.

Why has our mission changed, sir?

I mean, why all of a sudden are we chaperones?

The Flying Fortresses are taking heavy losses and need effective cover.

Sir, with all due respect, why don't they let the white pilots cover them?

I don't have time to lay it all out for you. I will say this.

This entire unit came within a hillbilly's heartbeat of going home.

And if certain people had their way, coming back carrying rifles, if we came back at all.

MAN: Say, you fellows with the 99th?

Yeah. Reggie Miller, 332nd.

Hannibal Lee, nice to meet you. This is Billy Roberts.

Call me Train. Hey, Train.

Well, fellows, welcome to Ramitelli. Hey, right this way.

You mean, Rami-damn-telli.

(JAZZ MUSIC PLAYING OVER SPEAKERS)

(INDISTINCT CHATTERING)

(HANNIBAL AND TANK LAUGHING)

It's about time you showed up, Lieutenant.

I thought I shook you in North Africa. Not a chance, sir.

Damn, it's good to see you, Tank.

Good to see you, sir. Remind me, I have something I want to show you later.

All right. See you out on the frontline. Take care, sir.

Lieutenant Lee. Sir.

I'm depending upon you and the others in the 99th to show some guidance and leadership.

These kids are straight out of Tuskegee and still saying their prayers at night.

So do us all a favor and give them some help. Roger, sir.

By the way, Colonel, I still do.

Still do what, Lieutenant? Still say my prayers at night, sir.

You gotta be kidding me. TANK: No, sir.

(TANK LAUGHS)

Brand new Mustangs? Yes, sir.

TANK: P-51 D, 275 gallons with drop tanks.

You can ride these ponies 1,000 miles and back.

Six.50 calibers on her wings, and she can haul two 1,000-pounders.

You don't bring me back some swastikas with all this, just keep flying right on back to Octopus, Iowa.

Ottumwa. Ottumwa.

What's this? New signature from the group.

Do you like it?

It ain't loud enough. Paint the whole goddamn tail red, Tank.

Yes, sir, Lieutenant.

DAVIS: We are less than 90 minutes from the German border, and they know we're here.

Those of you wondering about seeing action, you got your wish.

The 33rd and 324th regularly tangle with the Jerries.

Colonel, they're flying bomber escort. Occasionally, Lieutenant, yes.

They're doing it occasionally, we have the honor of doing it full-time.

That's right, Lieutenant. Consider it an honor.

Bomber losses to enemy action are unacceptably high.

Yesterday's run into Germany cost them 65 of 200 bombers.

That's one in three, gentlemen.

Six hundred men killed or missing.

You want to make your mark, here's your chance.


HANNIBAL: How do you like this, girls? All dressed up and no dates.

BILLY: Yeah, I think we've been stood up. Not a B-17 in sight.

This is the rendezvous point.

They must have been grounded by bad weather.

BUTLER ON RADIO: He's coming back around!

Hey, Iowa. Turn to channel 8.

BUTLER: All right, Medina, come on, let's get him! Pick him off!

Sounds like one of ours. Must be stragglers.

Let's go give them a hand. BILLY: Roger that.

(BREATHING HEAVILY)

GUNNER: Hey, he's coming up on top!

He's coming in again!

BUTLER: Hang on.

WESLEY: He's above us. (SIGHS)

BILLY: Here we go, fellows. Here we go. Hang on, Hannibal, I got him, I got him!

The Train is always on time. That's one. Let's clean them up now.

Let's clean them up.

What the hell? Did you see that? Yeah! Who is that?

BILLY: Get the other one, Hannibal. Whoa! Hold on a second.

We got another one coming in high. Come on, Medina, come on!

HANNIBAL: Keep your shirt on. I got him. I got him.

Moment of truth, Jerry. We live in the air.

We die by fire.

Yes!

Say good-bye, Mr. Kraut. Give my regards to the FŘhrer.

BUTLER: Going back home. Red tail Mustang, starboard side.

Come on, Vance. Who are they? I don't know.

WESLEY: Red tail 51, this is Fortress 320. Come in. Over.

Nothing.

I can't raise them. They must be on a separate frequency or something.

You get any kind of ID? Nothing I recognize.

I tell you, we need to find out who those boys are.

Red tails, huh? Yeah.

No fighter group I know carries those markings.

Well, I gotta find them.

I got a bottle of whiskey for both of them for saving our asses.

Hey, you might try Ramitelli. We're getting new escort assignments.

They might be one of them. All right, I'll check it out.

Poor slob did everything but pull the trigger for me.

On that last kill, I took that son of a bitch out from 1,000 yards.

Hey, sir, what'd you use to get them off? Use Split-S, climbing turns?

No, no, no, Walter Peoples' special. You make it up as you go along.

Hey, how you guys doing?

Listen, we're a B-17 bomb group based at Foggia, and we're looking for the pilots who were up at Pleven yesterday.

We want to say thanks. A couple of those guys saved our asses.

Don't mention it. So, where are they?

Where's who? The pilots, boy.

We came up here to see the pilots. You're looking at them.

Lieutenant Lee. Lieutenant Roberts. How are you?

We appreciate your thanks. This whole base is colored?

Colored, yes. Lock, stock and pilot.

Let's get out of here, Lieutenant.

What? This isn't right, let's get out of here.

What's not right? He just said... I don't give a shit what he said.

Them pilots was niggers. Niggers weren't flying them planes today.

Let's move it out. Yes, sir.

You saved their asses, and they got the nerve to be insulted?

Makes you want to hurt somebody.

What are you writing? My folks.

This boy mails a letter to his folks every night.

I'm not mailing this one, Train, you are.

Oh, no, no, no. I am not mailing that letter. If you die, you mail it yourself.

You'll mail it just like I'll mail yours.

Well, you won't have to worry about me asking.

Writing them one of those letters is like expecting to die.

No one expects to die.

My father had a friend, he fought in the First World War.

He was one of the first colored soldiers in France.

This man had so many medals, he came home decorated like a Christmas tree.

He disappeared one night.

They found him in Georgia, lynched in his uniform.

(EXHALES)

Why would you want to fly for a country that thanks you by lynching you?

(SIGHS)

I like the feeling of respect that we get, especially from colored folks.

Like me and Cappy came upon them fellows in the chain gang back at training in Tuskegee.

I even got some satisfaction out of the look on those white fellows' faces today when they found out it was us that saved their tails.

MAN: You're not getting a full 360, understand?

Captain, that colored outfit, the 332nd, HQ confirmed they were the boys that helped us at Pleven, and we weren't even their assignment.

Lieutenant, let me give you a little sociology lesson.

I think, being from California and all, you might be a little bit confused.

Now, I'm a Texas boy.

I grew up with niggers. I was around them every day.

Hell, in Lubbock, you can't throw a rock without hitting one.

Now, I know how they think, and I know how they live, and I can tell you with complete certainty what they are and are not capable of.

And you don't think they can fly them planes, sir?

Vance, if they was flying them planes, and that is one hell of a big "if," then what happened up there was a fluke. So forget about it.

HANNIBAL: Train, I'm getting tired of these long missions where we get stuck out here by our lonesome.

BILLY: I'm low on fuel. I say we should head back.

Wait a second. What is that?

Where? Down below. Looks like a German destroyer.

Ain't one of ours.

Train, you thinking what I'm thinking?

Always.

Straighten up.

Fly right.

HANNIBAL: All right. Here we go.

Geronimo!

Cool down, papa. Cool down, papa. Don't you blow your top.

That a boy, that a boy, that a boy. Yeah!

(MEN APPLAUDING)

(MEN CHEERING)

(MEN EXCLAIMING)

MAN: All right! Yeah! All right!

Hey. Iowa.

You're in the spotlight in there, man. You sunk a damn destroyer.

People get medals for doing that shit.

(CHUCKLES)

You're gonna stand there and tell me you think they're gonna give you or me or anybody else on this base a medal for doing anything right?

Okay, all right, so you won't get a medal. The bottom line is, we know what you did.

And we know it was a lucky shot.

(CHUCKLES)

But it's still one destroyer down.

BUTLER: You see our escort?

WESLEY: Sure do. And they're right on time.

HANNIBAL: They know we're here.

They're gonna give us their best shot, but we gotta get these guys to Brenner Pass.

Brenner Pass and back.

Heads up. Seven ME- 109s at 1 o 'clock.

I'll take the leader. Roger that. Straighten up.

Fly right.

WESLEY: Starboard wing gunner, got them in my sights.

Keep your mind on the game. All weapons off safe.

All stations, check in. BUTLER: Tail gunner, come up!

BILLY: Come on, baby. Make it easy for me. Bring it around. That's it.

HANNIBAL: Go get them, Train. You shake that buzzard down, boy.

Roger that.

I got him now. I got him. WESLEY: Bomb door's open!

BUTLER: Target up. Target up.

Got another one trying to sneak over the top, Iowa.

HANNIBAL: Ground him.

BILLY: Come on, baby. Come on!

That's it, I got you. I got you!

That's two, Iowa.

(RUMBLING) WESLEY: Whoa!

Two miles to target.

HANNIBAL: On your 6, Train. On your 6.

(BREATHING HEAVILY)

WESLEY: Bombs away.

BUTLER: Bombs away. Bombs away.

HANNIBAL: Hang on, Train. Get this guy off me, Iowa! Get him off me!

HANNIBAL: I'm coming, I'm coming!

(GROANS)

Billy!

(PANTING)

No, Billy, no!

I'm here, Train. I'm right behind him, buddy.

You go straight to hell, you son of a bitch.

WESLEY: Good hit! Good hit!

Train, can you hear me? Can you hear me, Train?

BILLY: I got two more, Iowa. I saw. You did good, Train.

Now, come on. We gotta go back. The bombers are back.

Come on. BILLY: You climb. No.

You gotta climb to them, Iowa! You gotta climb to them!

Straighten up and fly right, boy! You can make it!

(CIRCUITS BUZZING)

Billy.

Train.

(BILLY SINGING FIGHTING 99TH FIGHT SONG)

(HANNIBAL JOINS IN)

(SINGING CONTINUES)

(EXPLOSION)


(STRAIGHTEN UP AND FLY RIGHT PLAYS OVER SPEAKERS)

PILOT: We're going after his vapor trails.

We were going in and out of those clouds all the time. Then I finally got...

(INDISTINCT CHATTERING)

BILLY: Billy Roberts. On the block, they call me Train, as in "A-Train"? You know, quickest way to Harlem, you know.

I'll take some smokes. All right.

Peoples. Walter Derrick III.

Aeronautical engineer.

Lewis Johns. English Literature.

Leroy Jonas Cappy. Art History.

(DISTANT LAUGHTER)

(SNIFFLING)

Colonel, just how bad will the 88s be?

COLONEL: You'll be attacking Berlin, son. The very heart of Germany.

Every antiaircraft gun in the region will be trying to stop you.

And then there'll be the fighters.

Now, gentlemen, on this one, we need every load placed on the target.

We may not have a second chance.

Sir? Yes.

Who's flying cover? The 51st will escort your wing, Lieutenant.

Now, any more questions?

If not, good luck.

Sir.

Why the change?

How come our escort was changed from the 332nd to the 51st?

Logistics, Captain. Is that a problem?

No, sir. No problem. Good. Have a good mission.

BUTLER: Sir. Sir.

You got a point to make, Captain? I suggest you get on with it.

Speak up, Captain. We got a mission to run here.

Yes, sir. Well, I...

I got men whose lives are my responsibility up there, sir, and I want the 332nd as our escort.

The colored boys?

That's right, sir. I looked into it, and since they've been escorting bombers, they haven't lost one to enemy action, sir.

Not a single ship. And if it's all the same to you,

I want the 332nd to take me to Berlin and back.

All right, Captain. I'll take it under advisement.


At ease.

You're up awfully early today. I haven't gotten much sleep, sir.

We're all gonna miss him, Hannibal.

The really sad thing is he's gonna miss this.

Distinguished Flying Cross, for taking out the destroyer.

General Crowell will be here next week to officially present it to you.

There's something else.

(EXHALES)

Sir... Congratulations.

Captain Lee.

The word's in about our next mission.

Berlin.

And we weren't assigned.

We were requested.