POLK CITY, FL -- Fantasy of Flight presents its "Living History" symposium series, bringing to life the experiences of some of America's most courageous aviators through permanent and semi-permanent exhibits, real aircraft, and their own personal stories and interactions with guests.
In honor of Black History Month, the "Living History" series kicks off Feb. 27-28 with "They Dared to Fly," in which three of the remaining Tuskegee Airman, the first African-Americans to be trained as WWII military pilots, will reunite at Fantasy of Flight to share their recollections of wartime military service during segregated America. Fantasy of Flight's permanent multi-media Tuskegee Airmen exhibit will also include previously recorded interviews with several of the pioneering Airmen.
"We are thrilled and honored to welcome the Tuskegee Airmen to Fantasy of Flight to share their experiences as WWII heroes as well as pioneers in the fight for equality," says Fantasy of Flight founder and creator Kermit Weeks. "The opportunity to talk with some of America's first and finest fighter pilots face to face is a real gift not only for aviation and history buffs, but for every American."
The event includes several open-forum/question-and-answer sessions with the three Airmen - Leo R. Gray, Hiram Mann, and Eldridge F. Williams - on Friday, Feb. 27, and on Saturday, Feb. 28, at Fantasy of Flight's Officers Club.
Leo R. Gray flew 15 combat missions over Europe in the P-51 Mustang with a total of 750 flying hours. He was Active Duty until 1946 and remained in the U.S. Air Force Reserves until 1984. During his 41 years of military service, he received numerous awards, including a Presidential Unit Citation. He retired with the rank of Lieutenant Colonel.
Hiram Mann flew combat missions with two fighter squadrons during WWII and spent 21 years serving the U.S. Air Force, with his last assignment as an admissions counselor for the U.S. Air Force Academy. He is the co-author of Forever Dreaming, a book designed to inspire minority youth.
Eldridge F. Williams served in various capacities before retiring from the U.S. Air Force as a Lieutenant Colonel after 23 years. He later served the Dade County Public School District as Director of the Office of Equal Opportunity, working to eliminate discrimination in schools.
Of the original group of nearly 1,000 trained pilots and 15,000 ground personnel that made up the Tuskegee Airmen, only about 120 pilots and 210 ground crew are alive today.
Each of the living Tuskegee Airmen was invited to Washington, D.C., to witness President-elect Obama's inauguration on Jan. 20, 2009. In 2007, they were awarded a Congressional Gold Medal by President George Bush.
The second part of the "Living History" symposium series will take place March 27 and 28 in honor of Women's History Month. Entitled "A Passionate Pursuit," the event showcases the WASPs - Women Airforce Service Pilots - a spirited squadron of pilots who became the first American women to fly military planes in non-combat roles, breaking gender barriers across the country. Fantasy of Flight's WASP exhibition, which includes aircraft as well as four separate bays that feature historical, anecdotal, and inspirational video footage, photos, and storytelling panels, will serve as the backdrop for historic appearances from real WASP pilots.
The third event in the "Living History" series will take place June 20 with a Military Collectors Show and re-enactment in which several aviation heroes will speak.