Tuskegee Airmen Will Be Honored at History Center Event

Article excerpt

When enemy gunfire ripped through Edwin Gill's B-24 over Germany, a group of black fighter pilots came to the rescue, taking on the Germans and giving Gill's plane a chance to return to its base in Italy.

The pilot was dead and the crew was scrambling to keep the bomber flying when they heard a voice on the radio: "We're Tuskegee pilots, and we are over you. Keep going," said Gill's brother, Chester Gill, 78, of Natrona Heights.

Edwin Gill, who is white, died in 1991 after a battle with cancer. He never knew the black men flying those fighter planes, never knew whom to thank for saving his life.

His brother will get to express Edwin Gill's gratitude to all Tuskegee Airmen when a group of surviving members return to Pittsburgh next month to be honored by the Poise Foundation, a philanthropic organization.

A "Gathering of Eagles" will be held Feb. 2 at 11:30 a.m. at the Senator John Heinz History Center.

More than 50 men from Southwestern Pennsylvania served as Tuskegee Airmen, the first black military airmen in the United States.

"My brother said he always wanted to thank the Tuskegee pilots. He wished that they'd be recognized," said Chester Gill. "I'll be able to say 'mission accomplished.'"

Gill's gesture will be appreciated by Tuskegee Airmen like retired Lt. Col. Eddie Harris and William Bailey, who said breaking the military's racial barrier was difficult. They endured segregation and discrimination and were kept from all-white officers' clubs.

"It makes you feel humble. We were all part of one team," said Harris, 82, a Hill District native who lives in Trenton, N.J.

Bailey, a lieutenant who flew P-51 and P-47 fighter planes, knows the story of Gill's plane. It was widely talked about among the airmen.

But Regis Bobonis Sr., the principal researcher on two projects to find Tuskegee Airmen from Southwest Pennsylvania, has not been able to verify if any of the local Tuskegee Airmen aided Edwin Gill's squadron.

"It's a story we're so very proud of," said Bailey, 88, who grew up in the Hill District and was a University of Pittsburgh track star. He went on to be assistant superintendent of the Los Angeles School District. …