Lee A. "Buddy" Archer, Jr. remains the only confirmed ace of the famed Tuskegee Airmen, a group of black pilots who never lost an allied bomber to enemy air action in 200 escort missions. After excelling in high school, Archer enrolled in New York University to study international relations. In early 1941, sensing war was imminent for the United States, he applied for pilot training in the U.S. Army Air Corps. Although he passed the mental and physical examinations, Archer was refused appointment because government policy did not allow black citizens to serve in the Army Air Corps. Disappointed, but determined to contribute, Archer left school and enlisted in the Army.
In May 1942, while an instructor at Camp Wheeler, Georgia, Archer became aware the Army Air Force was accepting black candidates for pilot training under the "Tuskegee Experiment" and immediately applied. Graduating first in his class in 1943, Archer earned his wings and was commissioned a second lieutenant. He was assigned to the 302d Fighter Squadron of the 332d Fighter Group flying the Curtis P-40 Warhawk. In January 1944, after training in the Bell P-39 Airacobra, the 332d was transferred to Italy where he flew convoy escort, scrambles, reconnaissance, and strafing missions to cover Allied forces pinned down on the beaches of Anzio. In early March, his fighter group was transferred to the 306th Fighter Wing. Converting to the Republic P-47 Thunderbolt and moving to Ramitelli Air Base, Italy, Archer flew cover and escort for numerous long-range bomber missions, as well as strafing missions against enemy landing zones and troops on the march. Finally, as one of the "red-tailed angels" flying the North American P-51 Mustang, Archer flew 169 combat missions over more than 11 countries, scoring at least 5 aerial victories.
He returned stateside with an assignment to Tuskegee Army Air Field as Chief of the Instrument Instructor School. Later, Archer was selected for a regular commission and sent to UCLA to complete his college education. He held numerous post-war positions including Chief of Protocol for the French Liaison Office, Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe; White House Air Force-France Project Officer; and chief and executive officer of three international military organizations including the SHAPE Liaison Office, 36th North American Air Defense Division, and HQ USAF Southern Command, Panama. Decorated with the Distinguished Flying Cross and having received special citations from Presidents Eisenhower, Kennedy and Johnson, and the Director of the CIA, Archer retired as a Lieutenant Colonel after 29 years of service. He now resides in New Rochelle, New York.
On 18 July 1944, Lee "Buddy" Archer shot down a Messerschmitt Me 109 over Memmingen, Germany. He destroyed another on 20 July, and six more on the ground during a strafing mission in August. He added three additional victories in a single air battle over Lake Balaton, Hungary, on 13 October 1944. As one of the famous Tuskegee Airman, Lieutenant Colonel Archer's perseverance and heroic exploits helped open the way for future generations of blacks in the United States Armed Forces.