Status: Release (2016) – Honoring Tuskegee Airman’s 75th Anniversary
Length: TV one hour format or 70 min feature length (Screener available)
Number of Programs: 1
Territory: World (Television)
Red Tail fighter pilot Lt. Col. Alexander Jefferson, a WWII POW and Nazi death camp eyewitness, tells all in this award winning documentary commemorating the 75th Anniversary of the legendary Tuskegee Airmen. (Directed by Mike Rott)
On his 19th long range mission, Lt. Col. Jefferson was shot down by a German artillery unit. His squadron was strafing radar stations off the coast of Southern France. “We didn’t know what radar was at the time,” said Alex. “We had orders to destroy tall towers off the coast. We shot the hell out of them. We destroyed the towers and the buildings all around them.” As it turned out, the radar stations that they destroyed were used by the Germans to control guns firing out to sea. Destroying them limited the German capability to attack Allied ships approaching French shores. Just two days later Operation Dragoon, the Allied invasion of Southern France, came up. Alex was hit mid-flight while strafing at upwards of 400mph. He remarks, “I looked up and saw that there was a hole in the top of the canopy. Fire came up out of the floor. That sucker hit me square.” He bailed out and was caught in a tree struggling to free himself when German soldiers ran up. “This German officer ran up with a big Mowser. I could tell he was excited, astonished because he saw the color of my skin. But he saw the little gold bar on my collar and he saluted me.” This is remarkable because during those times, in a segregated US Military, Alex had not received salutes by his countrymen.
Upon arriving at the German camp, Alex was brought before a German interrogator. The interrogator told Alex that he had attended University of Michigan and spent much of his spare time in Detroit’s Paradise Valley where he enjoyed whiskey, hot jazz and even hotter women. He said that he looked forward to returning to Detroit after Germany wins the war. Alex was initially shunned by other American P.O.W.’s. When a group of captured bombardiers were brought to Stalag Luft III the word spread , “If you red tails had flown with us, we would never have been shot down.” Alex was quickly accepted by all white officers.
Initial reports from his squadron claimed that Lt. Col. Alex Jefferson was KIA (killed in action), his family was informed but it was months later after mourning his death that the Red Cross reported him as a POW
Local documentary, ‘Luft Gangster’, an uplifting story of a Tuskegee Airman
RATING: 5 out of 6 stars
Local Detroit film-maker Mike Rott has crafted a very insightful documentary, spotlighting a real American hero. The film is called “Luft Ganster: Memoirs of a Second Class Hero, and is the story of the now 94-year-old Lt.Colonel Alexander Jefferson, a Detroit-native, who fought and flew for the highly-coveted Tuskegee Airmen in World War II. This documentary excels not only in creating a lasting tribute to a worthy subject, but in putting his plight in proper context as to the racial and social climate of the times.
Of course, many of us have heard or are familiar with the Tuskegee Airmen, the all-African-American military pilots who were racially segregated during WWII. Many of us have also seen the recent Hollywood film, Red Tails, which gave us the story of the Tuskegee Airmen. Hilariously in Luft Gangster, when making a speech to a roomful of students gathered in his honor, Lt. Col. Jefferson tells them about Red Tails that “nothing in it is true” and that it is “pure Hollywood.” This line immediately peaks our interest and gets us involved in the real history of the Airmen.
And while the film and Lt. Col. Jefferson’s story are endearing, portions of the tale are infuriating. A memo around the time of WWII from a high-ranking official warned about “the Negroes” and their supposed flaws, going so far as to say, plainly, that the Negroes are inferior to the white man. Early on, Lt. Col. Jefferson tells a story about how he was brought to Atlanta briefly as a child, but made a derogatory comment to a white store owner. His father immediately got him out of the deep South and back to Detroit, for fear of racial retaliation. It’s against this backdrop that the story of the Tuskegee Airmen really takes flight.
Once the social climate is made clear to us, the film spends a lot of time on the personal experiences of Lt. Col. Jefferson. On his 19th mission during the war, he is shot down and captured by German forces and saw first-hand the travesties within a concentration camp. He never lost his spirit and continued to press on, finally being liberated.
With all the much-deserved attention the Tuskegee Airmen have gotten over the years, we also tend to have forgotten that the horrible racial climate they left before the war didn’t go anywhere once they got home. Even though they were known as the most efficient air force in the military, they were not treated as heroes upon returning back to America. Yes, Red Tails this movie ain’t.
Lt. Col. Jefferson is the perfect subject to deliver such weighty material, because he is a humorous, engaging man, full of vim and vigor. He may have once been a “Luft Gangster” (German for “air”), but he has always remained a humble, educated and positive spirit. It’s no surprise that he is well-loved by an entire community, not only for his war efforts, but because of his influence as a teacher to thousands of kids who learned from him and were inspired by him in the classroom.
Luft Gangster: Memoirs of a Second Class Hero is even more profound knowing that Lt. Col. Jefferson is a Detroit-er through and through. His is a story of someone that came from nothing, who despite all odds, persevered. The film itself is a loving, reverent tribute to an honorable man, worthy of being honored.