Lee Archer (pilot)

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Lee Andrew Archer, Jr.
Lee Archer WW2.jpg
Lee Archer in World War II
Born(1919-09-06)September 6, 1919[1]
Yonkers, New York
DiedJanuary 27, 2010(2010-01-27) (aged 90)[2]
Manhattan, New York City, New York
Allegiance United States
Service/branchUS Army Air Corps Hap Arnold Wings.svg United States Army Air Forces
 United States Air Force
Years of service1942–1970
Unit332nd Fighter Squadron
Tuskegee Airmen
Commands held7416th Material Squadron
Battles/warsWorld War II
Korean War
AwardsDistinguished Flying Cross
Meritorious Service Medal
Air Medal (9)
Air Force Commendation Medal (2)
Congressional Gold Medal

Lee Andrew Archer, Jr. (September 6, 1919 – January 27, 2010) was an African-American fighter pilot in the 332nd Fighter Group, commonly known as the Tuskegee Airmen, during World War II. He was one of the first African-American military aviators in the United States Army Air Corps, the United States Army Air Forces and later the United States Air Force, eventually earning the rank of lieutenant colonel.

During World War II, Archer flew 169 combat missions, including bomber escort, reconnaissance and ground attack. Archer claimed, and was credited with four enemy fighter aircraft shot down [3], though disputes regarding this record arose after his death.

Early life[edit]

Born in, New York, Archer grew up in New York's Harlem neighborhood, later attending New York University. After graduation, he joined the United States Army in the hopes of becoming a pilot. At that time, the Army did not accept black pilots, so Archer was posted to a communications job as a telegrapher and field network-communications specialist in Georgia.[4] When the Army's policy changed, he was accepted to the training program for black aviators at Tuskegee Army Airfield in Alabama, graduating first in his class,[5][6] and one of only 994 black wartime pilots to graduate there. He was commissioned as a second lieutenant on July 28, 1943.[7]

World War II[edit]

A restored P-51C Mustang in Lee Archer's markings, is now flown by Red Tail Project.[N 1]

Archer is considered by some as the first and—as of 2010—only black U.S. pilot to earn an "ace" designation, for shooting down at least five enemy aircraft.[9][10] However, during the war, Archer claimed, and was acknowledged to have shot down only four planes.[11] Years later, Archer stated he and another pilot both claimed victory for shooting down a fifth aircraft, that he was credited for only one half the kill, and that half kill was later taken away. However, official records show no claim by Archer on the date in question. Archer's supposed ace status was mentioned in news articles through the time of his death, when it was stated as fact in several obituaries. The original records of his duty were clear. The discrepancy between these records and the later reporting has caused some controversy. Archer also destroyed six aircraft on the ground during a strafing mission in August 1944, as well as several locomotives, motor transports and barges.[6][10]

While flying with the 302nd Fighter Squadron, as a combat pilot, nicknamed "Buddy", Archer flew 169 combat missions in the European Theatre of World War II, flying the Bell P-39 Airacobra, Republic P-47 Thunderbolt and North American P-51 Mustang fighter aircraft.[N 2][12] Flying a P-51C fighter with the distinctive red tail of the 332nd Fighter Group, known collectively as the "Tuskegee Airmen", he scored his first victory, a Messerschmitt Bf 109 on July 18, 1944 over Memmingen, Germany.[N 3][7]

Archer is best remembered for his exploits of October 12, 1944.[14] In the midst of a furious series of dogfights over German-occupied Hungary, he shot down three Hungarian Bf 109s over Lake Balaton, Hungary, in engagements that spanned only 10 minutes.[7]

When Archer returned home in 1945, a recipient of the Distinguished Flying Cross, he found that nothing seemed to have changed in American society. "I flew 169 combat missions when most pilots were flying 50," Archer told the Chicago Tribune in 2004. "When I came back to the U.S. and down that gangplank, there was a sign at the bottom: ′Colored Troops to the Right, White Troops to the Left′."[5]

Archer remained in the armed forces for a career as the United States Army Air Forces transitioned into the present day United States Air Force in 1947. He later flew missions during the Korean War,[7] became a diplomatic officer at Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe (SHAPE) and then became the headquarters chief of the U.S. Air Force Southern Command in Panama,[15] eventually retiring as a lieutenant colonel in 1970.[10]

Later career[edit]

Archer speaking at the San Diego Aerospace Museum, September 2003.
Television personality Bill Cosby (right) eulogized Archer at a Riverside Church memorial service on February 4, 2010.

After retiring from the military, Archer joined General Foods Corporation in White Plains, N.Y. where he became one of the first black corporate vice presidents of a major U.S. company. While there he also led its small-business investment subsidiary, North Street Capital Corporation, which serviced clients such as Essence Communications and Black Enterprise Magazine. In 1987 he helped establish the food conglomerate TLC Beatrice and in the same year founded the venture capital firm Archer Asset Management.[16] Archer became a longtime resident of New Rochelle, New York.

In October 2005, Archer and two fellow Tuskegee veterans, retired Technical Sergeant George Watson Sr. and Master Sergeant James A. Shepherd, visited Balad Air Base at Balad, Iraq, to meet with 700 servicemen from the 332nd Air Expeditionary Wing, the successor unit to his all-black outfit.

"This is the new Air Force," he told The Associated Press. In the dining room, he said, he saw "black, white, Asian, Pacific Islanders, people from different parts of Europe. This," he said, "is what America is."[17]

Illness and death[edit]

In April 2009, Archer was selected to be an adviser for the George Lucas produced film, Red Tails.[18] Archer, aged 90, died at Cornell University Medical Center in New York City on January 27, 2010, as a result of coronary complications, according to his son Roy Archer.[4][10] His death came during the post-production work on the Lucas film Red Tails, and the film's final credits subsequently bore a tribute to the pilot.[18] At a memorial service for Archer held at the Riverside Church on February 4, entertainer and commentator Bill Cosby gave a eulogy.[19]

Archer was predeceased by his wife, Ina Burdell, who died in 1996 and was survived by his three sons, one daughter and four granddaughters.[5][16] He is buried at Arlington National Cemetery.[19]

Awards and tributes[edit]

Military awards[edit]

Silver oak leaf cluster
Bronze oak leaf cluster
Bronze oak leaf cluster
Bronze oak leaf cluster
Bronze oak leaf cluster
Bronze star
Bronze star
Bronze star
Bronze star
Silver oak leaf cluster
Command Pilot Badge
Distinguished Flying Cross Meritorious Service Medal Air Medal
with 1 silver and 3 bronze oak leaf clusters
Air Force Commendation Medal
with 1 bronze oak leaf cluster
Air Force Presidential Unit Citation Army Good Conduct Medal
American Campaign Medal European–African–Middle Eastern Campaign Medal
with 3 bronze campaign stars
World War II Victory Medal
National Defense Service Medal
with 1 bronze service star
Korean Service Medal Air Force Longevity Service Award
with 1 silver oak leaf cluster
Small Arms Expert Marksmanship Ribbon Legion of Honour
United Nations Korea Medal

Other honors[edit]

See also[edit]



  1. ^ Markings that distinguished the Tuskegee Airmen included red bands on the noses of P-51s as well as a red rudder; their P-51B, C and D Mustangs flew with similar color schemes, with red propeller spinners, yellow wing bands and all-red tail surfaces.[8]
  2. ^ During the latter part of the war, Archer flew a North American P-51C Mustang, sporting "Ina The Macon Belle" on its nose, named after his wife, Ina, and adorned with a Zoot-suited "Hep Cat" painted on its rear fuselage.[7]
  3. ^ On this mission the 332d FG was escorting B-17s of the 483d Bomb Group. Although 15 Fortresses were lost to fighter interception in the fierce air battle, the 332d was credited with nine victories including Archer's.[13]


  1. ^ "National Visionary Leadership Project: Lee Archer." visionaryproject.com. Retrieved: December 26, 2012.
  2. ^ "Former Tuskegee Airman, 90, dies in NYC." Atlanta Journal Constitution, January 28, 2010.
  3. ^ http://www.redtail.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/04/Fifty-Two-Misconceptions-About-the-Tuskegee-Airmen.pdf
  4. ^ a b Lt. Col. "Lee Archer, Tuskegee Airman, Passes." U.S.A.F. (official website), January 29, 2010.
  5. ^ a b c Goldstein, Richard. "Lee A. Archer Jr., Tuskegee Fighter Pilot, Dies at 90." The New York Times, February 3, 2010. Retrieved: February 5, 2012.
  6. ^ a b "Lieutenant-Colonel Lee Archer." The Telegraph, January 29, 2010.
  7. ^ a b c d e f White, Troy. "Tuskegee Airman Lt. Lee 'Buddy' Archer." Archived 2013-02-03 at Archive.today StardustStudios.com, 2011. Retrieved: December 26, 2012.
  8. ^ Rice, Markus. "The Men and Their Airplanes: The Fighters." Tuskegee Airmen, 1 March 2000.
  9. ^ Francis 1955, pp. 92, 194.
  10. ^ a b c d "Tuskegee Airmen Ace of World War II, Dies." CBS News, January 29, 2010. Retrieved: December 25, 2012.
  11. ^ [1]
  12. ^ Tillman 2012, p. 24.
  13. ^ Haulman, Dr. Daniel L. "Misconceptions About the Tuskegee Airmen." Archived 2013-10-29 at the Wayback Machine AFHRA. Retrieved: 26 October 2013.
  14. ^ Francis and Cato 1997, p. 146.
  15. ^ a b "Tuskegee Airman buried at Arlington." CNN, February 13, 2010.
  16. ^ a b "Lee A. Archer, Ace Tuskegee Airman and V.C., Dies." The New York Times website, January 29, 2010. Retrieved: December 25, 2012.
  17. ^ "Aging Tuskegeee Airmen visit Air Force unit in Iraq." Gadsden Times, October 29, 2005. Retrieved: February 5, 2012.
  18. ^ a b "Lee A. Archer Jr." Legacy.com, February 3, 2010. Retrieved: February 24, 2012.
  19. ^ a b "Dr. William H. "Bill" Cosby Jr., American actor and comedian, delivers a eulogy during a memorial service for retired U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Lee A. Archer." United States Department of Defense, February 7, 2010. Retrieved: February 5, 2012.
  20. ^ Byrne, Virginia. "Lee Archer – Tuskegee Airman – dies." San Francisco Chronicle, January 31, 2010. Retrieved: February 5, 2012.
  21. ^ "Gala Luncheon Saturday, June 13, 2009; Reginald F. Lewis Foundation." Archived July 15, 2011, at the Wayback Machine www.reginaldflewis.com, June 5, 2009. Retrieved: February 5, 2012.
  22. ^ "Tuskegee Airmen, Inc Major General Iriene Trowell-Harris Chapter". tai-ny.com. Retrieved 2020-04-15.
  23. ^ Four Freedoms Award#Freedom Medal


  • Cooper, Charlie, Ann Cooper and Roy La Grone. Tuskegee's Heroes. St. Paul: Minnesota: Motorbooks International Publishing Company, 1996. ISBN 0-7603-0282-0.
  • Francis, Charles E. The Tuskegee Airmen. Boston: Bruce Humpries, Inc., 1955.
  • Francis, Charles E. and Adolph Caso. The Tuskegee Airmen: The Men Who Changed a Nation. Boston: Branden Books, 1997. ISBN 0-8283-2029-2.
  • Haulman, Daniel L., Eleven Myths About the Tuskegee Airmen. Montgomery, Alabama: New South Books, 2011.
  • Tillman, Barrett. "Tales of the Red Tails; Inside the Tuskegee Legend: The men, the machines, the missions." Flight Journal, February 2012.

External links[edit]