Walterboro, S.C. – As the result of a bill sponsored in the House by Representative Robert L. Brown, and supported by the S.C. legislature, the S.C. Department of Transportation will dedicate a stretch of I-95 to the honor and memory of the Tuskegee Airmen on Sunday, July 24, 2011. At 4 p.m. that day, the Tuskegee Memorial Highway signs will be unveiled at the Colleton County Courthouse.
“This is a wonderful way to keep the Tuskegee Airmen’s legacy alive in Colleton County. We will not forget the courageous sacrifices they made in protecting our country. The project is good for the industry, our local economy, and will benefit everyone in the state,” commented Brown.
The Tuskegee Airmen were a group of young men who enlisted in World War II to become America’s first black military airmen. According to their website, they enlisted at a time when many people thought black men were not ready for such a demanding assignment, particularly when so many lives were at stake. The Tuskegee Airmen were ever more determined to demonstrate their prowess and equality as they came from all over the country and trained to be aircraft and engine mechanics, armament specialists, radio repairmen, parachute riggers, control tower operators, policemen, and administrative clerks, among other roles, to fully function as an Army Air Corps flying squadron or ground support unit. Those airmen who became single-engine or multi-engine pilots received their aviation training at the Tuskegee Army Air Field (TAAF) in Tuskegee, Alabama. They received their combat training at several army airbases along the East Coast, including the Walterboro Army Airfield, which is now the site of the Lowcountry Regional Airport in Walterboro. From 1942 through 1946, nine hundred and ninety-four pilots graduated from TAAF, receiving commissions and pilot wings.
The Hiram E. Mann Chapter of the Tuskegee Airmen, Inc., located in Walterboro, S.C., was chartered in 1998. The chapter is named in honor of Lt. Col. Hiram E. Mann, who received his combat training at the Walterboro Army Airfield in 1944. He and his wife lived on Savage Street while in Walterboro. During the war, he flew 48 combat missions. He later returned to visit Walterboro in 1991 and was instrumental in helping get in touch with other original Tuskegee Airmen who served in the area during the war and also in the city’s efforts to erect a monument to honor the Tuskegee Airmen. In 1996, Walterboro City Council named Col. Mann an honorary citizen of the City of Walterboro.
Mann said, “I am very proud to have been associated with the Hiram E. Mann chapter of the Tuskegee Airmen, Inc. (TAI). We had no idea that over 65 years ago, when we were stationed in Walterboro, that circumstances would evolve to the wonderful conditions we have today. The Hiram E. Mann Chapter has contributed much to the TAI, the City of Walterboro, and Colleton County.”
Over the years, the chapter has awarded 16 scholarships to local high school graduates seeking careers in aeronautic related fields and has placed award recipients in competition for the national scholarship fund, which five local area students have won. Additionally, chapter members have conducted diversity training to employees at Wal-Mart in South Carolina and Georgia and have spoken numerous times at churches, schools, and civic organizations. In 1982, the Colleton County School District spent $8 million to build a high school on the exact location where the Tuskegee Airmen barracks were located during World War II. A wing was later added to the school and dedicated to the Tuskegee Airmen.
Johnnie Thompson, chairman of the Hiram E. Mann Chapter of the Tuskegee Airmen, Inc., commented, “I am very proud of the role that my hometown played during World War II with the Tuskegee Airmen. Even if a little late, the recognitions such as the naming of a stretch of a super highway in honor of the Tuskegee Airmen is great and will do volumes to enhance their legacy.”
The Hiram E. Mann chapter office building is located at 1477 Mighty Cougar Drive in Walterboro. Membership is open to anyone who espouses the legacy of the Tuskegee Airmen. Those seeking membership may do so by contacting any chapter member or by writing to the chapter at P.O. Box 1091, Walterboro, SC 29488. The chapter meets the first Saturday of each month at 11 a.m. Meetings are open to the public.
Additional information on the Tuskegee Airmen can be found at the Colleton County Memorial Library or the Colleton Museum, or by visiting www.tuskegeeairmen.org.
Established in 1826, the City of Walterboro is hailed as the “front porch of the Lowcountry,” with its historic charm, plentiful natural resources and warm Southern hospitality. The area around the city, rich with forests and vast quantities of water, is also known as the gateway to the ACE Basin, one of the largest undeveloped estuaries on the East Coast. Centrally located between Charleston, Savannah, Hilton Head, and Columbia, the city is home to many historic buildings, antique stores, the Great Swamp Sanctuary and the S.C. Artisans Center, designated by the state’s legislature as the “Official South Carolina Folk Art and Craft Center.” In addition, the city is home to the largest general aviation airport in the state. Walterboro serves as the economic heart of Colleton County and maintains a small-town Americana atmosphere. For more information, call 843-549-2545 or visit www.walterborosc.org.