Rise above

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DebbieNorrellBox

On June 2, I attended the event honoring the 70th anniversary of the Tuskegee Airmen. It was a free and fun event. I would have loved to have seen a lot more people from the Black community in attendance. I’m not sure what the excuse could have been. There wasn’t a fee, it was advertised on big billboards throughout the city, and there were tons of other attractions if history and airplanes is not your thing. There were climbing walls, a car cruise, food vendors and even the Highmark Direct Mobile Unit. One of my personal favorites of the afternoon was spending some time with the United Rays Corvette Club and witnessing that Red Tail Mustang take off and land, what a sight to see. Also there was the opportunity to visit the traveling classroom on wheels and see a 30-minute film about the Redtail Squadron.

I had an opportunity to meet the CAF pilot Brad Langford, whose father was a Tuskegee Airmen. What an honor. He shared with me that the P-51C Mustang fighter crashed in 2004 and the pilot was killed. The plane has been restored twice by the CAF (Commemorative Air Force). I also talked to one of the people who was fortunate enough to take a ride in the Mustang fighter. He was 13 years old and it appeared that his parents afforded him this special treat that he said was like nothing that he has ever experienced.

The rides in the plane were pre-purchased and cost $1,500. The funds that are raised go towards keeping the rare P-51C Mustang flying and the RISE ABOVE Traveling Exhibit on the road. These tools educate young people, and some not so young, about the value of making a goal and rising above any obstacles to meet it. The Redtail Squadron asks for donations of $99. Why $99? To honor the Tuskegee Airmen’s 99th Fighter Squadron. Learn more at http://www.redtail.org.

Also on this Saturday local Tuskegee Airmen were honored. Lt. Wendell Freeland, William Hicks, Lt. Dr. Harry Lanauze and Timothy McCray (ground crew) were honored. Regis Bobonis Sr. (Tuskegee Airmen historian) presented a statue of a Tuskegee Airman to CAF pilot Brad Langford. He was surprised and honored.

More than 2,000 African-Americans trained as fighter pilots, navigators and support personnel at Tuskegee Institute in Alabama during World War II. They would fly more than 1,500 combat and escort missions over Europe and North Africa, earning numerous honors including Distinguished Flying Crosses and Purple Hearts. Sixty-six of the airmen were killed in action and 32 became prisoners of war.

The local angle to the Tuskegee Airmen story, the largest contingent of those men and women came from Western Pennsylvania, including 17 from the Hill District, 16 from Homewood, seven from Sewickley, six from Beltzhoover, four from the North Side and 20 others from elsewhere in Allegheny County. But because of prejudice and ignorance, their story of heroism and service went largely untold. Reportedly after fighting to preserve freedom, they returned to a country where they were treated as second-class citizens. Currently funds are being raised for a memorial that will be located in Sewickley.

Spotted: Elsie Hillman, Col. Albert Johnson and Ed Gainey.

(Email the columnist at deb­bienorrell@aol.com)

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