Lee A. "Buddy" Archer, Jr. is the first and only ace of the famed Tuskegee Airmen, a group of African-American pilots who never lost an allied bomber to enemy air action in 200 escort missions during World War II. Archer was born in 1919 in New York City. After excelling in high school, he earned a degree from Delehanty Institute in New York. In 1941, sensing war was imminent for the United States, he applied for pilot training with the US Army Air Corps. Although he passed the mental and physical examinations, Archer was refused appointment because government policy did not allow African-American citizens to serve in the Army Air Corps. Disappointed, but determined to contribute, Archer enlisted in the Army.
In May 1942, while an instructor at Camp Wheeler, Georgia, Archer learned the Army Air Forces was accepting African-American 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 332d Fighter Group flying the Curtiss P-40 Warhawk. In 1944, after training in the Bell P-39 Airacobra, the 332d was transferred to Italy where Archer flew convoy escort, reconnaissance, and strafing missions to cover Allied forces pinned down on the beaches of Anzio. Two months later, his 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-51C Mustang, Archer flew 169 combat missions over 11 countries, scoring at least 5 aerial victories. He returned stateside after the war with an assignment to Tuskegee Army Air Field as Chief of the Instrument School. Archer returned to combat again in the 1950s during Korean War.
Following this, he earned another degree from the University of California at Los Angeles and held numerous post-war positions throughout France, Panama, and in Washington DC. Archer retired after 29 years of service having been decorated with the Distinguished Flying Cross and having received special citations from Presidents Eisenhower, Kennedy, and Johnson, and the Director of the Central Intelligence Agency. He then applied himself in the business world as Corporate Vice President for Urban Affairs for the General Foods Corporation, Chief Executive Officer for North Street Capital Corporation, and Chair of the Hudson Commercial Corporation.
On 18 July 1944, 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. As one of the famous Tuskegee Airmen, Archer's perseverance and heroic exploits helped open the way for future generations of African-Americans in the United States Armed Forces.