Pittsburgh airport exhibit will honor Tuskegee 'Fly Boys'

Regis D. Bobonis, senior founder and chair of Tuskegee Airmen Memorial of the Greater Pittsburgh Region Inc., shows off  what a new exhibit will look like at  Pittsburgh International Airport on June 16, 2013.
Regis D. Bobonis, senior founder and chair of Tuskegee Airmen Memorial of the Greater Pittsburgh Region Inc., shows off what a new exhibit will look like at Pittsburgh International Airport on June 16, 2013.
Photo by Conor Ralph | Tribune-Review

Sunday, June 16, 2013, 4:33 p.m.

Pittsburgh International Airport will house the largest Tuskegee Airmen exhibit of any airport, organizers said on Sunday.

Officials announced a corporate sponsorship campaign in the Findlay airport and showed off a photo and graphic rendering of the planned Tuskegee Airmen Recognition Exhibit.

“It's really appropriate that we make this announcement on Father's Day, as we recognize the service and life of these men who dedicated their lives to the service of this country,” said Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald, who was joined by state Sen. Matt Smith, D-Mt. Lebanon, other county officials and members of the Tuskegee Airmen Memorial of the Greater Pittsburgh Region Inc.

Tuskegee Airmen became the military's first black pilots during World War II. The group included navigators, bombardiers, instructors and maintenance and support staff.

The airport will locate the exhibit across from the Southwest Airlines gate on Concourse A, said JoAnn Jenny, airport spokeswoman.

On three walls, the exhibit will feature narratives about local, former Tuskegee Airmen.

Plaques will display the names of three local airmen killed in combat. A television monitor will show excerpts from the WQED documentary “Fly Boys: Western Pennsylvania's Tuskegee Airmen.”

More Tuskegee Airmen — 95 men and 1 woman — were from Western Pennsylvania than from any other region, said Regis Bobonis, project chairman.

An opening ceremony the week of Sept. 8 is timed to coincide with other events, including the Sept. 15 dedication of the country's largest outdoor memorial for Tuskegee Airmen, which will be at Sewickley Cemetery.

The memorial group wants to raise $150,000 in corporate sponsorships to support tributes, including a New Horizon Theater-presented, off-Broadway play, “Black Angels over Tuskegee,” that will debut at the Byham Theater on Sept. 14; exhibits at the Sewickley Library and Carnegie Library sites in Homewood, the Hill District, North Side and South Side that will open Sept. 5-10; and the airport exhibit, said project consultant Rich Dieter, president of Robinson-based Crescendo Group Consultants Inc.

Sponsors have made verbal commitments for $45,000, he said. The airport exhibit is estimated to cost between $35,000 and $40,000, he said.

The sponsorship campaign is not needed to pay for building the long-awaited $255,000 Tuskegee Airmen Memorial Project at Sewickley Cemetery. Penn Hills-based Satira Construction will start building the memorial next week, Dieter said. Allegheny County provided a $100,000 grant for the cemetery memorial.

Kimberly Slater-Wood, a memorial project trustee, said the recognition means a lot to her father, former airman Harold C. Slater, 89, of the Hill District.

Slater was an airbrake mechanic with the 477th Bombardment Group, she said.

“He is excited. He is so thrilled and humbled,” Slater-Wood said.

Tory N. Parrish is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-380-5662 or tparrish@tribweb.com.

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