Tuskegee Airmen ‘Red-tail Angels’ Brothers George and Arnold Cisco

Arnold and George Cisco. Photo credits: Irene Cisco

Brothers in the same branch of the military are not unknown, but two brothers, both members of the Tuskegee Airmen, were unusual.

George and Arnold Cisco were raised in rural Jerseyville in Illinois, where they graduated from Jerseyville High in the 1930s. Both men went on to study further. George was granted a Batchelor of Science degree and his brother, Arnold, gained a Batchelor of Arts degree in languages.

When the USA was drawn into the war, both brothers were determined to do their bit for their country. The segregation enforced by all branches of the military was stringent, with black men being restricted to mundane, laborious tasks such as cooks, building roads, or laborers.

George Cisco. Photo credits: Irene Cisco
George Cisco. Photo credits: Irene Cisco

The Cisco brothers had joined the air school at Mouton Field in Tuskegee, Alabama, but again due to the prejudice of the Southern hierarchy, they were there for show only.

This changed when Eleanor Roosevelt went to inspect the airfield and climbed into a training plane with “Chief” Anderson. He took Mrs. Roosevelt for a flight around the country.

Arnold Cisco. Photo credits: Irene Cisco
Arnold Cisco. Photo credits: Irene Cisco

When they returned, a photographer following the First lady took a photo of Chief Anderson and Mrs. Roosevelt smiling together. This changed the Tuskegee air corps’ fate, and soon after, they were then sent to join the fighting.

George Cisco was sent to the officer training school at Fort Knox, Kentucky, on joining the military in 1943.

He graduated with the rank of Second Lieutenant and was sent to the US Army’s 761st Tank Battalion. This did not suit him, and he transferred to the Army Air Corp at Tuskegee, where he earned his pilot’s wings.

On the 16th August, 1944, he was tragically killed in a flying accident when the Thunderbolt he was flying was hit by another plane when landing at Walterboro Air Base in South Carolina.

Meanwhile, his brother, Arnold, had been sent to the 99th Pursuit Squadron based at Ramitelli Air Base in Italy. There he flew P-51 Mustangs.

All the Mustangs of this Squadron had their tails painted red, giving rise to their Red Tails’ nickname. The squadron’s task was to protect the 5th Bomber Wing, flying B-52s on missions over Bucharest, Hungary. The bombers were destroying the German oil supply by bombing the oil refinery and storage facility.

Pilots of the all-Black American 332nd Fighter Group (the Tuskegee Airmen)
Pilots of the all-Black American 332nd Fighter Group (the Tuskegee Airmen)

Arnold Cisco was a decorated airman earning the Victory Service Medal, the Oak Leaf Cluster of World War II, and the European-African-Middle Eastern Theater medal. In 1946, Arnold was aboard a plane the hit electric wires during a storm and crashed.

The Cisco brothers were buried next to each other in the Alton Cemetery, but there was no mention of their membership of the Tuskegee Airmen on their headstones.

It took more than thirty years for historians to document the incredible contribution made by these airmen to the American war effort. It is sad to think that if the brothers had lived, they would have been famous today for their war service.

Eugene Jones Baldwin, a member of the National Tuskegee Airmen Oral History Project in Chicago, learned of the Cisco brothers and, in 199, wrote a couple of newspaper articles about them.

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This raised interest in the men, and a project was started to raise money for a memorial stone showing their history with the Tuskegee Airmen. Over $6,000 was raised, and in June 2017, the memorial stone was unveiled at a ceremony by the graves.