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RED TAILS: History on the silver screen
With honor: Tuskegee airman Val Archer stands in front posters for the new movie "Red Tails." - photo by Bryan Fazio/The News

The story of a courageous group of young men breaking through the color barrier of a 1940's war-time America zooms across the screen in high-flying action and big-budget Cinema Scope during the George Lucas produced "Red Tails" at a theatre near you.

But for Stockbridge resident Val Archer that story is much more than a night at the movies. Archer, who has seen the Tuskegee Airmen based "Red Tails" more than four times, lived the story.

Archer served with the Tuskegee Airmen just after World War II, being trained by many of the squadron's heroes who fought in battles similar to those portrayed in the film released on Jan. 20.

"I was trained by those guys who just came back from Europe, so I'm fairly familiar with (the story)," Archer said. "One of the surprising things about (the move) was how realistic it was compared to back in those days."

Archer said many of the characters in the film reminded him of people he knew when he served with the 322 Fighter Group in the mid 40s.
"They captured a lot of the really basic simple instances such as the card games and humor," Archer said. (The characters) all had pretty much the same attitude as some of the characters (I served with)."

At 15, Archer joined the Army being assigned to the 332nd in Rantoul, Ill. The group was moved to Tuskegee, Ala., renamed the 99th fighter group and earned its famous moniker.

The Tuskegee Airmen were a group of black fighter pilots flying P-57s painted with red tails. They blazed both a trail for civil rights as well as a safe pathway for many bomber missions over Europe.

Leading the charge was characters such as those portrayed in the film "Red Tails."

"I could identify with the characters from each one of them that played in this movie," Archer said. "I think our guys back in the 40s may have been a bit more hot dogs than these kids, but they had the roles down pat."

He said he even saw a representation of his role with the fighter group in the film.
"The guy who played the line chief, (Antwan "Coffee" Coleman) is ther role that would have been my role in the movie. He reminded me of my line chief."

Among others who reminded Archer of real-life people was Chapie James, a fellow Tuskegee Airman with Archer. James' character traits are well represented, Archer said, by the role of Samuel "Joker" George played by Elijah Kelley in the movie.

The film got its character depictions from actual Tuskegee Airman, including former Atlanta Chapter member Chuck Dryden. Dryden was a fellow chapter member with Archer, until his passing two years ago.

In a 1995 HBO movie titled Tuskegee Airman, Dryden was portrayed by Malcolm Jamal Warner as "A Train." In "Red Tails, Dryden's memories run throughout the film.

Among the memories of all the Tuskegee Airman, race played a big factor. That issue was depicted in the movie as well.

"They handled that very well," Archer said. "Especially by the guy who played the commanding officer; he did a great job with that. I was surprised how well done it was."
Archer has seen the movie several times, enjoying each viewing. According to Archer, other Tuskegee Airmen have also liked the movie, saying it wasn't far off what they experienced.

"Overall it has been getting good marks," Archer said. "Everyone who has seen it has given very high marks."