Military Wiki
Lee Andrew Archer, Jr.
Lee Archer during World War II
Nickname Buddy
Born (1919-09-06)September 6, 1919[1]
Died January 27, 2010(2010-01-27) (aged 90)[2]
Place of birth Yonkers, New York, United States
Place of death Manhattan, New York City, New York, United States
Allegiance  United States
Service/branch United States Army Air Corps
Years of service 1941–1970
Rank US-O5 insignia.svg Lieutenant Colonel
Unit 302nd Fighter Squadron
Tuskegee Airmen
Battles/wars World War II
Korean War
Awards Air Force Distinguished Service Medal
Distinguished Flying Cross
Air Medal (18 clusters)
Distinguished Unit Citation
Congressional Gold Medal

Lee Andrew Archer, Jr. (September 6, 1919 – January 27, 2010) was a black U.S. fighter pilot in the African-American unit which became known as the Tuskegee Airmen. He was one of the first African-American military aviators in the United States Army Air Corps, the U.S. Army Air Forces and later the U.S. 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, and is officially credited with four enemy fighter aircraft shot down.[3]

Early life

Born in Yonkers, New York, Archer grew up in New York's Harlem district, later attending New York University. Upon graduation, he joined the 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

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, but that claim is not true.[9][10] Documents show that Archer claimed to have shot down four enemy aircraft during World War II, and he earned full credit for all his four claims. He did not share any aerial victories with another pilot, and none of his aerial victory credits was ever reduced or taken away. He 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][11] 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.[13] 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]

The claim that Lee Archer scored, in addition to his awarded victory on July 18, 1944, an additional victory or half a victory that day is false. Archer claimed and was awarded a credit on July 18, 1944, according to the group history and Fifteenth Air Force mission reports, and did not share an additional victory with anyone else. In fact, Freddie Hutchins, with whom he is sometimes said to have shared the credit, did not earn an aerial victory credit or a half aerial victory on July 18, 1944. No other pilot in Archer's squadron or group earned a half credit that day. The July 1944 history of the 332nd Fighter Group lists all claims for the month, and Archer is listed with one, on July 18, 1944, and he received credit for that claim. The assertion that he was intentionally denied a full or partial credit on July 18 to avoid a black pilot being designated an ace was also refuted, inasmuch as it could not be foreseen that he would later shoot down three more. These occurred on a single mission in October 1944 and for each of those claims he was awarded a whole credit, making his World War II total 4. Two other Tuskegee Airmen also shot down a total of four aircraft during World War II, one of whom recorded his 4th in July 1944 and was not rotated back to the United States until December.[12] 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 U.S. Army Air Forces transitioned into the present day U.S. 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,[14] eventually retiring as a lieutenant colonel in 1970.[10]

Later career

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.[15] 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."[16]

Illness and death

In April 2009, Archer was selected to be an adviser for the George Lucas produced film, Red Tails.[17] 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.[17] At a memorial service for Archer held at the Riverside Church on February 4, entertainer and commentator Bill Cosby gave a eulogy.[18] 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][15] He is buried at Arlington National Cemetery.[18]

Awards and tributes



  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.[12]


  1. "National Visionary Leadership Project: Lee Archer." Retrieved: December 26, 2012.
  2. "Former Tuskegee Airman, 90, dies in NYC." Atlanta Journal Constitution, January 28, 2010.
  3. Haulman, Dr. Daniel L. "Nine Myths About the Tuskegee." Organizational Histories Branch, U.S. Air Force Historical Research Agency, U.S.A.F., October 21, 2011. Retrieved from the website, February 23, 2012.
  4. 4.0 4.1 Lt. Col. "Lee Archer, Tuskegee Airman, Passes." U.S.A.F. (official website), January 29, 2010.
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 Goldstein, Richard. "Lee A. Archer Jr., Tuskegee Fighter Pilot, Dies at 90." The New York Times, February 3, 2010. Retrieved: February 5, 2012.
  6. 6.0 6.1 "Lieutenant-Colonel Lee Archer." The Telegraph, January 29, 2010.
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 7.3 7.4 7.5 White, Troy. "Tuskegee Airman Lt. Lee 'Buddy' Archer.", 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. 10.0 10.1 10.2 10.3 "Tuskegee Airmen Ace of World War II, Dies." CBS News, January 29, 2010. Retrieved: December 25, 2012.
  11. Tillman 2012, p. 24.
  12. 12.0 12.1 Haulman, Dr. Daniel L. (2013). "Misconceptions About the Tuskegee Airmen", AFHRA. Retrieved 26 October 2013
  13. Francis and Cato 1997, p. 146.
  14. 14.0 14.1 "Tuskegee Airman buried at Arlington." CNN, February 13, 2010.
  15. 15.0 15.1 "Lee A. Archer, Ace Tuskegee Airman and V.C., Dies." The New York Times website, January 29, 2010. Retrieved: December 25, 2012.
  16. "Aging Tuskegeee Airmen visit Air Force unit in Iraq." Gadsden Times, October 29, 2005. Retrieved: February 5, 2012.
  17. 17.0 17.1 "Lee A. Archer Jr.", February 3, 2010. Retrieved: February 24, 2012.
  18. 18.0 18.1 "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.
  19. Byrne, Virginia. "Lee Archer - Tuskegee Airman - dies." San Francisco Chronicle, January 31, 2010. Retrieved: February 5, 2012.
  20. "Gala Luncheon Saturday, June 13, 2009; Reginald F. Lewis Foundation.", June 5, 2009. Retrieved: February 5, 2012.


  • 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, AL: 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

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