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 Today in Gay History: The 22nd Fighter Group Minimize

During the Second Word War the U.S. Military experimented with several segregated units, including the well known all Japanese 442nd Regimental Combat Team, the all black 99th Fighter Squadron, and the Navajo code talkers. Somewhat less known are the all female Women's Airforce Service Pilots (WASPS), the all Hispanic 127th Anti-Aircraft Battalion, the all Catholic 543rd Military Police Unit ("The Pistol Packin Papists") and the all gay 22nd Fighter Group. Today we look at the little known history of the 22nd ("The Pink Panthers' or "The Tu-Tus" as they were known.), one of the most colorful units to grace the diverse rainbow that was the greatest military machine ever created.

The 22nd was formed in 1943 when crushing demand for manpower forced military leaders to reconsider the longstanding policy of discharging homosexuals from every branch of the military except the navy. The move had the support of Eleanor Roosevelt, an unlikely supporter of early gay rights. The 22nd was formed from a multitude of volunteers and began training at California's Garland Field in October 1943.

The brief history of the 22nd's training involved many ups and downs. The 22nd were known for punctuality, fitness, clean barracks and a strong unit cohesion. They boasted the most original camouflage in the Army Air Forces. As their commander, Herbert "Tailgunner" Fitzbetter stated, "If you're going to fight - Clash!" The 22nd's combat skills were deemed below par, and instructors commented that many lacked discipline, although a minority apparently thrived on it. In addition there were many instances of pilots going AWOL to meet with sailor friends in nearby San Francisco. Ultimately institutional prejudice as well as jealousy on the part of naval aviation led to the disbanding of the 22nd before they ever saw combat.

The 22nd did leave a legacy in the military. The phrases "Stick and rudder man" "Augered in" and "Waxed his tail" are believed to have originated with this colorful unit. The movie "Top Gun" paid homage to the 22nd in its famous volleyball scene, where Iceman can be seen sporting a tattoo of the 22nd's logo. In recent decades veterans of the 22nd have been seen showing up at memorial day and fourth of July parades, finally able to display their sense of pride.

The 22nd was neither the first nor the only gay aviation unit. There was of course Baron von Lictoffen's Flying Cirque du Soleil in WWI, the AVG's lesser known fourth squadron the "Flying Pussycats" and Israel's famed 132nd squadron "The Screaming Faygelehs." Perhaps they did not achieve lasting fame, but the 22nd certainly helped pave the way for gay pilots everywhere.


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