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Tuskegee Airman: Chief Master Sgt. Fred Archer

JOINT BASE BALAD, Iraq -- Fred Archer was born and raised in Harlem, New York, in 1921. In 1939, 17 year old Archer enlisted into the 369th Infantry Regiment New York National Guard.

"After a certain age in Harlem as a young man, the thing to do and be in was the 369th Infantry Regiment - It was Harlem's pride, New York's best - and if you weren't in the Guard, then you were nowhere," Archer said.

Archer served under West Point graduate Benjamin O. Davis., whose father was the regimental commander for the 369th. After two years, he went on active duty with the Army Air Corps in 1941.

Archer and 13 others left New York for Chanute Field, Ill., where they received technical training to become aircraft armorers. He also attended gunnery training at Eglin Field, Fla.

These Airmen become the support crew for a group of pilots at Tuskegee Airfield that would later be called the Tuskegee Airmen, the first African Americans to enter the Army Air Corps.

Private Archer was assigned to the 99th Pursuit Squadron, again under the command of Capt. Benjamin O. Davis. In April 1943, the 99th left Tuskegee to join the war overseas.

"We went into Casa Blanca, North Africa and then moved across to the desert up to Tunisia, from there to Sicily and finally Italy," Archer said.

Archer rose to the rank of master sergeant and was the chief armorer in the 99th Fighter Squadron throughout the war.

He returned home after the war and was stationed at Lockbourne Air Force Base, Ohio. On July 26, 1948, President Harry S. Truman issued Executive Order #9981, declaring an end to segregation in the military.

Sergeant Archer was reassigned to Davis Monthan AFB, Ariz., on Aug. 4, 1949, as the noncommissioned officer in charge of the 43rd Bombardment Wing armament shop, which supported B-29s, B-50s and other bombers.

Desert life prompted Sergeant Archer to call Frances, the future Mrs. Archer, and after describing the desert, he proposed marriage and invited her to come to Tucson because "misery loves company." The Archers tied the knot on Oct. 25, 1949.

Sergeant Archer continued his rise through the ranks until retiring from the Air Force in 1974, as a chief master sergeant. He was the first African-American to earn the rank and the first to be nominated three times for the position of chief master sergeant of the Air Force.

His 33 years of service during World War II, the Korean Conflict and the Vietnam War earned him many decorations to include the Bronze Star, Meritorious Service Medal, Air Force Commendation medal and 15 other service awards.

Archer continued to serve the Tucson community during his retirement years, becoming the first Director of the "A" Mountain Neighborhood Center, which offered daycare service, health and senior citizen programs. He was also involved in many other civic duties and was involved in numerous community organizations.

Chief Archer lived life loyal to the vision of Gen. Benjamin O. Davis' phrase "What you do now and how you do it, is going to determine the future." Chief Archer passed away September, 1988, at the age of 67.