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McKeesport doctor honored for service as Tuskegee Airman

| Monday, May 27, 2013, 12:01 a.m.
Jennifer R. Vertullo | Daily News
Dr. Harry Lanauze accepts his 'Red Tails' jacket from Grayson Sandidge in the doctor's McKeesport office on Saturday.
Jennifer R. Vertullo | Daily News
Dr. Harry Lanauze accepts a proclamation from McKeesport Mayor Michael Cherepko, presented by his assistant Annette James.
Jennifer R. Vertullo | Daily News
'It's a perfect fit,' Dr. Harry Lanauze says as he puts on his 'Red Tails' jacket, presented by Grayson Sandidge in the doctor's McKeesport office on Saturday.

A longtime McKeesport physician has been honored as a member of a celebrated squadron of World War II aviators.

Harry Lanauze was presented Saturday with a Red Tails jacket emblematic of the Tuskegee Airmen, the first group of black pilots, navigators and support staff to serve in the U.S. military.

“We're going to celebrate you,” said Grayson Sandidge Jr. of Homestead as he made the presentation at Lanauze's downtown office.

Lanauze served in the 332nd Fighter Group, the official name for the Army Air Corps unit based in Tuskegee, Ala.

Sandidge, a West Mifflin native, is the son of an air traffic control operator for the 332nd, a unit that was formed partly because of pressure from from civil rights groups and newspapers such as the Pittsburgh Courier.

“We've known each other for over 50 years,” Sandidge said. “He was our family doctor when we were kids. My father and Dr. Lanauze served together.”

Sandidge today is a volunteer for Tuskegee Airmen Inc., a nonprofit organization with 55 chapters, including one for the Greater Pittsburgh area.

“The tail wings on the P51 planes (that Lanauze and others flew) were red,” Sandidge said. “From that they were known as the red tails. Most of the guys that were with the 332nd are the ones who would be wearing the red jacket.”

There is a spit fire emblem on the jacket.

“The P51 was known as the Spit Fire,” Sandidge said.

“It's a perfect fit,” Lanauze said as he put on the jacket.

“It looks good,” Sandidge said.

A proclamation signed by Mayor Michael Cherepko recalled Lanauze's career in family medicine, dating back to his graduation from Meharry Medical College in 1961.

“Dr. Harry Lanauze has unselfishly given back to the community with his work in his medical practice over many years,” the mayor wrote in the proclamation presented by his aide Annette James.

It cited Lanauze's heroism.

“Dr. Harry Lanauze endured intense training and conquered narrow-mindedness before he was allowed to join the battles of World War II,” Cherepko wrote. “For this we owe a debt of gratitude.”

The mayor extended “sincere congratulations and best wishes to him for good health and happy times.”

Also at Lanauze's office Saturday was Rich Harris, “McKeesport born and bred” veteran of the U.S. Army in Korea who now lives in North Versailles Township.

He called to mind the “Red Ball Express,” a truck convoy system in place for several months after the June 6, 1944, D-Day invasion of Normandy.

“They went through all of Europe,” Harris said, “delivering supplies to the troops and evacuating the wounded. Just like the Tuskegee Airmen, they were good at what they did.”

Lanauze keeps on his desk an Associated Press story about another group of black military pioneers.

The Montford Point Marines were those who enlisted after President Franklin D. Roosevelt ordered the Corps to accept blacks in 1941.

They were segregated from white Marines serving at nearby Camp Lejeune in North Carolina. They served in support roles in the Pacific, taking intense fire at Okinawa and Iwo Jima.

There were more than 19,000 who enlisted and went through the Montford Point base between 1942 and 1949.

“I was going to keep this on my desk until they are recognized,” Lanauze said.

Slowly, recognition is coming, for most posthumously.

In 2011 the U.S. House voted 422-0 to present the Montford Point Marines with the Congressional Gold Medal.

Four hundred received it in 2012 at a ceremony in Washington.

The website www.montfordpointmarines.com calls attention to a non-profit veterans' organization established to perpetuate their legacy.

More information about the 332nd's legacy is available online at www.tuskegeeairmen.org.

Lanauze received a Congressional Gold Medal in 2007 with other surviving Tuskegee Airmen.

That was noted in Cherepko's proclamation, as was George Lucas' 2012 motion picture “Red Tails,” based on the airmen's experiences.

Patrick Cloonan is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-664-9161, ext. 1967, or pcloonan@tribweb.com.

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