After years of planning and fundraising, construction is set to start this month on the Tuskegee Airmen Memorial of the Greater Pittsburgh Region.
“We will have enough done by the end of this year before the bad weather hits so that people can interact with the memorial,” said John Gioguardi, of Rome Monument, during a special meeting about the memorial at the Edgeworth Club, in Sewickley, that featured an unveiling of the new memorial design. “Historical information will be accessible by iPhone and all the Tuskegee Airmen’s names and the towns they came from will be represented. There will also be memory links to portray a lot of the airmen’s general history.”
|MEMORIAM UNVEILED—Rich Dieter, right, and John Kroek unveil the rendition of the Tuskegee Airmen Memoriam. (Photo by J.L. Martello)
To date, the Tuskegee Airmen Memorial of the Greater Pittsburgh Region has raised approximately $178,000 for the memorial. $175,000 is still needed to complete the first phase of the project, which will be done by the end of the year.
“From everywhere people will be able to see the red tail, which will be made from red granite that came from Rock of Ages Stone Company here in the United States,” said Rich Dieter of Crescendo Group Consultants. “This is not something that is ancient history it’s here with us today.
“The memorial will being awareness of what these airmen and one woman did. This is the largest outdoor memorial paying recognition to the airmen in the United States. It is truly going to be an attraction and it’s going to be of interest to anyone who is patriotic and loves liberty,” Dieter said.
G. Stratton Nash, second vice chair of the board of trustees of the memorial agreed with Dieter.
“Being from Sewickley and knowing the legacy of the seven airmen from Sewickley, I’m very proud to be chosen to representing where I am from. This is truly an honor,” Nash said.
Members of the memorial fund have been raising money in various ways including selling baseball caps and cups and soliciting help from family and friends.
The memorial will be stationed in Sewickley Cemetery and will honor more than 100 Tuskegee Airmen—and one woman—from western Pennsylvania.
“I like giving back,” said Kerry Solomon of Solomon Architecture and Design Group the company who designed the memorial. “I’ve done a lot of projects, but once I started to learn about the Tuskegee Airmen and what they did, I wanted to get involved. It gives me great satisfaction as a person to be able to give back.”
The creation of this memorial has been a dream of Regis D. Bobonis, Sr. and he has been on a crusade to see that dream become a reality since 2009 when he began research about the Tuskegee Airmen under the auspice of the Daniel B. Matthews Historical Society.
The Daniel B. Matthews Historical Society conducts research on the contributions of African-Americans in history and in western Pennsylvania. However, as the research and the interest in the Tuskegee Airmen increased, Bobonis founded The Tuskegee Airmen Memorial of the Greater Pittsburgh Region in 2011.
“The largest contingent of Airmen came out of western Pennsylvania from Erie to the West Virginia border and seven of them came from Sewickley,” Bobonis said. “This is a metaphor for the Black experience.”
President Franklin D. Roosevelt ordered the installation of an all-Black flight training program. Based in Tuskegee Institute and Tuskegee Army Air Field in Tuskegee, Ala, the airmen belonged to the 332nd Fighter Group’s 99th, 100th, 301st and 302 Fighter Squadrons. The Tuskegee Airmen—whose main mission was to escort bombers—took part in more than 15,500 sorties and more than 1.500 missions in North Africa, Europe and Sicily. Despite their achievements, the airmen had to endure racial prejudice during and after WWII.
That undying fighting spirit is one of the reasons Elaine Effort, longtime KQV newswoman; joined the Tuskegee Airmen Memorial of the Greater Pittsburgh Region.
“The airmen were creating history and you couldn’t tell them they weren’t special. We are fortunate because this is our legacy. We have something special. I feel like this is long overdue,” said Effort who serves as first vice-chair of the memorial project along with her husband, Dr. Edmund Effort. Her father, Vurnol Leaphart, was a Tuskegee Airmen.
“I wish my dad had lived long enough to see all of these tributes from the movies and everything. For all the people who support this, this is not a Black story but a human story. It was a totally united effort for them to be victorious at war and at home. Black folks should be proud of this because this is their legacy,” Effort said.
The group hopes to dedicate the memorial in a ceremony during the spring or early summer of 2013.