Retired Air Force Senior Master Sgt. Timothy McCray and his family followed a trail blazed by the Tuskegee Airmen, the first black military aviators in American history.
McCray's niece, Brenda Robinson, was the first black female pilot in the Navy assigned to the Fleet Logistics Squadron 40, a support group based in Norfolk, Va. His cousin, Craig Stewart, served as crew chief of Air Force One.
"This was something I hoped to have seen in my lifetime," said McCray, 82, of Penn Hills, before officials with the Tuskegee Airmen Memorial Project of Greater Pittsburgh broke ground for a monument to the more than 84 black aviators from Pittsburgh who served in World War II.
Before 1940, the then-segregated military did not accept blacks as airmen. The Tuskegee Institute in Alabama was chosen to train the pilots, navigators, bombardiers, maintenance and support staff, whose achievements paved the way for full integration of the armed forces.
Construction of the memorial in Sewickley Cemetery is scheduled to begin March 7, the 72nd anniversary of the graduation of the first five pilots in the Army Air Corps' training program for black aviators in Tuskegee, Ala. The memorial is expected to be completed within three months.
Rome Monument of Rochester designed the memorial: two 7-foot by 3- foot ebony granite towers bearing the names of Tuskegee Airmen from Western Pennsylvania flanking the memorial's centerpiece -- a 10- foot by 82-foot white monument with a porcelain reproduction of an original color painting by Ray Simon of Columbiana, Ohio. …