Frank Hailstock was typically reserved, but Terry Hailstock believes his father would have stood proud as one of the region’s Tuskegee Airmen honored in a dedication ceremony in the Sewickley Cemetery.
“He was a quiet man, but he would have loved this,” said Terry Hailstock of Moon Township, whose father is buried in the cemetery.
On Sunday, Sept. 15, a large crowd gathered to watch the unveiling of the largest outdoor Tuskegee Airmen memorial in the United States, honoring the first black military aviators.
Featuring four monuments and four granite benches, the memorial at the cemetery entrance recognizes the legacy of nearly 100 men and one woman who served from Western Pennsylvania.
Halistock is just one of the names engraved in granite. Born and raised in Sewickley, he served as a radioman on a B25 bomber during World War II, when the military was still segregated and the Airmen who served were largely unrecognized.
In his opening remarks, Regis Bobonis Sr., chairman of the Tuskegee Airmen Memorial of the Greater Pittsburgh Region, Inc. mentioned Hailstock and Sewickley's other Tuskegee Airmen by name: James Addison, William Curtis, William Gilliam, Mitchell Higginbotham, Robert Higginbotham, Sr., William Johnston.
Other local airmen include Aubrey Higginbotham, George Roberts and William Rucker, all of Washington, Pa.; Jake Lytle of Bridgeville; William Wyatt Quivers Sr. of Verona; Rosco Perkins Jr., of Canonsburg; and Carl Woods Jr. of Mars, Pa.
Airmen from the Hill District, Beltzhoover, East Liberty, Homewood, Latrobe, North Versailles, Uniontown, Yukon and Homestead also were honored.
Bobonis, a historian and retired Pittsburgh journalist, spent 15 to 20 years researching the Tuskegee Airmen, and worked for the past six years spearheading efforts to build a permanent memorial dedicated to those who served.
Bobonis said he and other members of the Daniel B. Matthews Historical Society traveled to Oberlin, OH in early 1993 to begin researching information that an “amazing number” of airmen were from the Sewickley, Edgeworth and Leetsdale corridor. That interview with Lt. William Johnston eventually led to information that the largest contingent of World War II enlistees in the airmen program came from the Pittsburgh region.
“The thing I want to make clear is simply this: that day in Oberlin began this day,” Bobonis said.
Five Tuskegee Airmen participated in Sunday's ceremony, including James Cotten, formerly of Pittsburgh, who now lives in Willingboro NJ.
Cotten, 86, retired from the Air Force after more than 20 years, served as an air operations and air field management technician supervisor, Cotten said he was honored to be a part of the dedication considering many of the veterans have unfortunately passed away.
“I'm very glad that I was allowed to stay around for this period of time so that I can realize and see this,” Cotten said.
The Rev. Dr. Jamis C. Brooks said she grew up listening to stories from her uncle George A. Bivins Sr., who recently passed away. Bivins of North Versailles was a unit clerk, she said.
Brig. General Leon Johnson, president of the Alabama-based Tuskegee Airmen, Inc., a national nonprofit that honors the Airmen's accomplishments and history, said the Tuskegee Airmen were dedicated young men and women.
“They accepted the challenge during a time when many people thought and said that blacks lacked the intelligence, skill, courage and patriotism to do those tasks,” Johnson said.
About the Memorial
The memorial features a concrete, handicapped accessible plaza, four monuments and four granite benches.
One monument is 10 feet tall with red granite sculpted Red Tail on top visible from all directions as you approach the memorial. Two "tower" monuments include the name of all the Tuskegee Airmen and one woman from Western Pennsylvania.
QR codes will be included on several monuments so that smartphone users can download additional information about history an the lives of the Airmen.
The benches have been sponsored by the Nevin Family, Dr. Edmund and Elaine Effort, The Flaxman-Bobonis Family and The Sewickley Valley Historical Society.
The Sewickley Cemetery Foundation donated the portion of the memorial known as the plaza and an additional eight grave sites were purchased to commemorate the Airmen who came from Sewickley. Local gardeners from the Sewickley Community Center will be planting seasonal flowers in the front garden.
Approximately 100 grave sites for veterans of all wars and races are located directly behind the Tuskegee Airmen Memorial. They will be available for purchase from the Sewickley Cemetery.
Rome Monument coordinated the design, placement and engraving; Solomon Architecture and Design completed the drawings; and Satira Construction was the general contractor.