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Tuskegee Airman struck blow for desegregation

| Friday, June 21, 2013, 12:01 a.m.
Calvin Smith, who died Saturday, June 15, 2013, is believed to have been the last surviving Tuskegee Airman in Beaver County

Calvin Smith was proud to have been a Tuskegee Airman during World War II, but felt that the pioneering group's efforts had gone unrecognized for too long.

Though he looked forward to the September opening of the nation's largest outdoor memorial to the airmen in Sewickley Cemetery, he won't get to see the unveiling.

Calvin Smith of Beaver Falls died Saturday, June 15, 2013, in UPMC Presbyterian in Oakland. He was 88.

He is believed to have been Beaver County's last surviving Tuskegee Airman, said Regis Bobonis Sr., a historian and the chairman of Tuskegee Airmen Memorial of the Greater Pittsburgh Region Inc.

“That's the tragedy of it,” he said.

The airmen became the military's first black pilots, but the group included navigators, bombardiers and maintenance and support staff.

A bombardier, Mr. Smith was a 2nd lieutenant with the 477th Bombardment Group. The war ended before he could serve overseas, but he played a key role in the Freeman Field Mutiny, during which 101 Tuskegee Airmen were arrested for attempting to desegregate a whites-only officers club at Freeman Army Airfield near Seymour, Ind., in 1945, Bobonis said. The mutiny was seen as the first step toward integrating the military, according to Tuskegee Airmen Inc. in Tuskegee, Ala.

More Tuskegee Airmen were from Western Pennsylvania — 95 men and one woman — than from any other region in the nation, Bobonis said. The Tuskegee Airmen Memorial of the Greater Pittsburgh Region is overseeing the construction of the $255,000 memorial in Sewickley Cemetery, which will bear the names of the Western Pennsylvania airmen.

“He was very excited about that,” said Mr. Smith's son, Newt Smith II of Hampton, Va.

Input on the memorial was sought from all the region's surviving airmen, Bobonis said.

“I think it's a wonderful idea. I appreciate it,” Mr. Smith told the Tribune-Review in May.

He was born in Aliquippa to Newt and Estella Smith. Mr. Smith's survivors include another son, Ahmses Maat of Desert Hot Springs, Calif.; a daughter, Denise Kirkland of Aliquippa; a sister, the Rev. Ann Dawkins of Aliquippa; 12 grandchildren; 13 great-grandchildren; and eight great-great-grandchildren.

He was preceded in death by his wife of 47 years, Betty Smith, a sister, Vera Kennedy; two brothers, Estell and Sam Smith; and a great-granddaughter.

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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