Expert in red ink served in ‘Red Tails’ unit

Tuskegee Airmen needed a financial whiz, not just pilots

By Tom Vogt, Columbian science, military & history reporter

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A movie that opened this weekend tells the story of the Tuskegee Airmen, a unit of black aviators who made history during World War II.

But “Red Tails,” a film by George Lucas, doesn’t tell all the stories … certainly not that of Emmett Rice, a Camas resident who died 10 months ago.

“Red Tails” focuses on the pilots who protected U.S. bombers from German fighters in the skies over Europe.

Rice’s assignment didn’t put him in the cockpit of a P-51 Mustang; it put him in Harvard Business School.

After Rice died March 10, 2011, at the age of 91, his obituary noted that he had been an officer of the Tuskegee Airmen. He served primarily in managerial and accounting roles in the United States, it said.

Rice, who moved to Camas in 1998, was not a typical Army draftee. He’d graduated from City College of New York in 1941, and received a master’s degree in business administration a year later.

Rice gave a fuller account of his World War II service for an oral history project at the University of California at Berkeley.

In the interview archived at Cal’s Bancroft Library, Rice told Gabrielle Norris how he was selected for officer training school. It was a two-part course, starting with the basics of military leadership and organizational management.

“Training to be a leader in combat. A good part of that was logistics,” said Rice, whose daughter Susan Rice serves as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.

Then he was sent to Harvard for the second phase of his training. Rice said the military “took people like me who had had some business training, and had had some statistics and accounting, and background — business exposure … and

sent them off to the business school.”

After the war, Rice attended graduate school on the Berkeley campus. It all set the stage for his accomplished career as an economist, including posts with the Treasury Department, the World Bank and the Federal Reserve Board of Governors.

The Tuskegee Airman economist actually did get to spread his wings, by the way — even though it wasn’t part of his formal military training.

“I was taught how to fly, but not by requirement. As a matter of fact, it might not have been the right thing to do; I don’t know,” Rice said.

“All I know is that some people insisted on showing me a thing or two when I was riding with them.”

Tom Vogt: 360-735-4558; http://www.twitter.com/col_history;tom.vogt@columbian.com.