First Lieutenant Halbert Alexander was assigned to the 99th Fighter Squadron. He also flew as alternate pilot for the first Gunnery Meet in May of 1949.
The then Chief of Staff of the Air Force sent a directive to all the fighter groups in the United States, stating there would be a competition between the three highest scoring fighter groups. This was the first Gunnery Meet the Air Force ever held.
The 332nd Fighter Group, had impressive scores, and despite the racial tension at that time, was invited to the competition. The primary competitors were: Capt. Alva Temple, 301st Fighter Squadron; 1st Lt. Harry Stewart, 100th Fighter Squadron; and 1st Lt. James Harvey, 99th Fighter Squadron. The alternate was 1st Lt. Halbert Alexander also from the 99th FS.
There were only two trophies to be presented, one for best team and one for best individual, and Col. Benjamin Davis, 332nd Group commander, told his four pilots, “If you don’t win, don’t come back.”
The 332nd Group’s competitors were flying P-51 Mustangs and F-82 Twin Mustangs. The Tuskegee Airmen were flying obsolete P-47 Thunderbolt. The missions were aerial gunnery at 12,000 and 20,000 feet, dive bombing, skip bombing, rocket firing and panel strafing.
The 332nd won the weapons meet, but Temple was aced out of the best individual award after the panel staffing mission. However, in print, the 332nd was never recognized as the winner.
The Air Force Association puts out an almanac each year highlighting the winners of Air Force Weapons Meets, 1949 through present day. Each year the winners of the 1949 weapons meet were listed as unknown. It wasn’t until 1993, when Col. Harry Stewart returned to Nellis AFB, found the information and presented it to the Air Force that a changed was worked. As of April 1995, the almanac shows the 332nd Fighter Group as the winners of the 1949 weapons meet.
The trophy somehow disappeared, but Zellie Orr, president of the Tuskegee Airmen chapter in Atlanta, made it her mission to find the trophy. After five days she found it in the storage area of the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force at Wright Patterson AFB, Ohio.
Halbert Alexander was later killed in an F-86 Aircraft accident over one of the New England States.
Gunnery team members, shown in this 1949 photo with their trophy, are (from left) 1st Lt. Halbert Alexander,
1st Lt. James Harvey, Capt. Alva Temple and 1st Lt. Harry Stewart
The CAF Red Tail Squadron is a volunteer-driven organization dedicated to educating audiences across the country about the history and legacy of the Tuskegee Airmen, America’s first black military pilots and their support personnel.