Monday was a day to commemorate heroes and heroines at the 10th anniversary of the installation of the Tuskegee Airmen Memorial at the Pittsburgh International Airport.
In 2013, the Tuskegee Airmen Memorial Greater Pittsburgh Region, in partnership with the Allegheny County Airport Authority, unveiled a memorial exhibit in Concourse A Airside terminal. The past decade was commemorated with a presentation of a new plaque for the exhibit during a ceremony in the Landside terminal.
The memorial has photos and other details about the African-American men and women, many from Western Pennsylvania, who served during World War II.
The Tuskegee Airmen were the first African-American aviators and military support soldiers in the U.S. armed forces. According to Regis Bobonis Sr., a retired Pittsburgh journalist and amateur historian, the Pittsburgh region sent the largest contingent of Black airmen trained at Tuskegee and enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Forces during World War II — including the only woman, Rosa Mae Willis Alford of Beaver County.
The Airport Authority continues its commitment to honoring military veterans, particularly those who faced unique challenges and hardships because of the color of their skin such as the Tuskegee Airmen, said Jeff Immel, the Airport Authority’s general counsel and former U.S. Navy fighter pilot.
“The Tuskegee Airmen Memorial tells the story of incredibly brave men and women who served our nation proudly, and it is crucial that that story continues to be told,” Immel said.
These men and women paved the way for those who came after them, including Immel himself, he said.
Col. Troy E. Wing, Operations Group Commander for the 171st Air Refueling Wing, Pa. Air National Guard, said when thinking of the endeavors of the Tuskegee Airmen, the first word that comes to mind is “courageous.”
“These airmen fought not only for their country in World War II but they fought for the right to assist in our military facing segregation and racial discrimination,” Wing said. “These airmen performed valiantly. They not only faced the Germans, they helped shatter racial stereotypes. They persevered through adversity even after they returned.”
Wing said the memorial “gives people a moment to reflect on the magnitude of the formation of the Tuskegee Airmen and how their sacrifice and contributions not only helped us win a war, but helped us move forward as a nation,” Wing said. “As we lose them, it is even more important to have a way to remember them. We learned from them that actions speak louder than words.”
Remembering this historic moment is a way to honor and treasure the Tuskegee Airmen, said Kimberly Slater-Wood, who is chairwoman of the Tuskegee Airmen Memorial Greater Pittsburgh organization. She is the daughter of Tuskegee Airman Harold Slater, who served as a mechanic with the 477th Bombardment Group in WWII.
He died in 2014.
Her dad didn’t talk much about his service, Slater-Wood said. When Bobonis came to interview him, he didn’t dwell on how he was treated, his daughter said. He said he was proud to serve his country.
“It doesn’t seem like it was 10 years ago that we were here for the ribbon cutting,” Slater-Wood said. “We are here to give homage and honor to the Tuskegee Airmen. We want to ensure their legacy is preserved forever and their heroic efforts are not forgotten. My father was the embodiment of integrity, commitment, selflessness, self-respect and respect for others.”
The plaque, which will be installed on the memorial, has a QR code for people to learn more about the memorial at the airport as well as the outdoor memorial at Sewickley Cemetery. Slater-Wood said her dad was honored to be part of the initial memorial and would be even more honored to see this dedication.
One of Slater-Wood’s hopes is to continue to educate about the Tuskegee Airmen for future generations.
“Education about this is so important,” said Janis C. Brooks, a board member and niece of Tuskegee Airman George A. Bivins. “We would like to see more community programs and teachings about this in our schools. “
Polly Bozdech Veater is secretary of Military Affairs Council for Western Pennsylvania.
She met Tuskegee Airman Kingsley Carye at the Holy Cross Episcopal Church in Homewood. He told her stories about his time in the war.
“I want to help anyway I can,” said Veater. “I want to give back in his honor. I know someone who lived through this. It was special to know him.”
“As I stand here as a daughter of a Tuskegee Airmen and on behalf of the board and families of these veterans I am so very humbled and grateful as we carve out another significant piece of history,” Slater-Wood said. “Those who were here with us in 2013 have transitioned into angels and their spirit remains among us.”
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