SEBRING - Leo R. Gray, Lt.Col., USAF retired, is a Tuskegee Airman and P-51 combat veteran pilot who will be the featured speaker at the EAA Chapter 1240 Youth Aviation fundraising dinner at 6 p.m. Jan. 17 at the Group 44 Air Operations hangar, Sebring Regional Airport.
Soon after high school graduation, Gray joined the Army Air Corps and began his aviation cadet training in 1943. Little more than a year later, he graduated from the Tuskegee Army Air Field as a second lieutenant, single engine pilot.
The Tuskegee Airmen is the popular name of a group of African-American pilots who fought in WWII. Formally, they were the 332nd Fighter Group and the 477th Bombardment Group of the U.S. Army Air Corps.
While stationed in Italy as a fighter pilot, Gray flew 15 combat missions in P-51s for a total of 750 hours flying time. He left active duty in 1946, but remained in the USAF reserves until 1984. During his 41 years of military service, Gray earned a Coveted Air Medal with one Oak Leaf cluster and a Presidential Unit Citation.
Sebring Regional Airport, known as Hendricks Field during WWII, was an important training base for B-17 bomber crews. There were many Army Air Corps training bases in Florida and Hendricks Field was significant since it made use of the bombing range near Avon Park.
The Tuskegee Airmen had a successful record of escorting bombers where losses to enemy aircraft were minimal, and they were often requested to provide escort on bombing missions by the bomber crews. There is a good chance that some of the bomber crews training at Hendricks Field were escorted by the Tuskegee Airmen also known as the "Red Tails."
The EAA Chapter 1240 annual fundraising dinner supports many of the programs and scholarships for youth aviation education. Tickets are $50 per person or $500 for a reserved table of 8 and are available from EAA 1240 members or visiting the EAA 1240 website at www.eaa1240.org. For information, contact John Rousch, EAA 1240 Youth Programs Coordinator, at 385-8107 or email@example.com.