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Construction of long-awaited Tuskegee Memorial at Sewickley Cemetery finally set to begin

| Wednesday, June 19, 2013, 9:00 p.m.
Conor Ralph | Tribune-Review
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.

After years of planning, researching, designing and fundraising, construction on the long-awaited Tuskegee Memorial is scheduled to begin this week at Sewickley Cemetery.

Crescendo Group Consultants Inc. President Rich Dieter said Penn Hills-based Satira Construction will do the work on the $250,000 memorial honoring the western Pennsylvanians who were affiliated with the all-black Army Air Corps Unit.

It's been a long road, one that begin in the early '90s, when “a group of amateur historians from Sewickley, Pa., took the first step in a long journey,” said Tuskegee Airmen Memorial Project founder and chairman Regis Bobonis Sr. about the group from the Daniel B. Matthews Historical Society that began research on the airmen.

Now, two decades later, they will have in place the largest outdoor memorial in the country.

“I think the general feeling is pretty overwhelmed but also excitement to bring attention to what (the airmen) did,” Dieter said of those who have been involved in the project for years.

The memorial includes the plaza, four mourning benches, eight headstones, a monument boasting a Red Tail airplane and another featuring a bronze relief of Tuskegee Airmen of western Pennsylvania and two granite towers with names of 96 pilots, navigators, bombardiers and support crew members from the region.

By the Sept. 15 dedication, everything except for the two granite towers will be in place unless all of the names to be included on it are verified and a sponsor is secured.

The cost of the towers is not included in the $250,000 figure, and the price of those will be determined based upon market value at the time of ordering and how many names will be engraved on them, according to Dieter.

As important as the project is, education is paramount, Dieter said.

“We want the story of what the Tuskegee Airmen accomplished to be in the minds of everybody.

“What those men and women did to help defeat the Nazis was incredible,” he said and added what might be even more impressive was that “these people were challenging discrimination, not only in the military, but in their communities.”

In an effort to further educate the public about and commemorate the local Tuskegee Airmen, project officials unveiled in February plans for a large exhibit to be constructed at Pittsburgh International Airport.

The exhibit, scheduled to be completed in early September, measures 22 feet wide and 16 feet deep and will feature photos of airmen, as well as memorabilia.

The exhibit will be located in Concourse A and remain in place for up to five years, Dieter said.

A press conference at the airport on Sunday kicked off a corporate sponsorship campaign to raise funds for the approximately $35,000 exhibit, as well to pay for events leading up to the Sept. 15 dedication at Sewickley Cemetery, including a reception and concert featuring Josh White Jr. at the Edgeworth Club; an off-Broadway play, “Black Angels Over Tuskegee,” on Sept. 14 at the Byham Theater in Pittsburgh; and smaller Tuskegee Airmen exhibits at the Homewood, Hill District, Allegheny and South Side branches of the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh and the Sewickley Public Library.

“Undoubtedly, there's going to be a couple more smaller activities that will be added from now until September,” Dieter said.

The corporate sponsorship also will pay for maintenance at the cemetery site for years to come, Tuskegee Airmen educational opportunities and a sign about the memorial to be erected in the Village leading up to the dedication.

“The verbal response so far has been really good,” Dieter said.

Kristina Serafini is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-324-1405 or kserafini@tribweb.com.

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