By Min. Anna Stevens Bright
The Mark Clark Hall on the campus of The Citadel was the historic and elegant setting of the Hiram E. Mann Chapter of The Tuskegee Airmen, Inc. 20th Anniversary Gala. Serving as the master of ceremony was Major General (USAF Retired) Harold “Mitch” Mitchell. Members of the R.B. Stall High School AFJROTC posted the colors. After the presentation of the national anthem, the Reverend Evon Robinson delivered the invocation, and he later gave the benediction.
Tony Clyburn, President of Audible Communications, gave the welcome, history, and recognition of two documented Original Tuskegee Airmen who were present for the event. One member of this documented distinguished group of African-American pilots of WWII, attending the gala was Second Lieutenant (USAF) Eugene Richardson, Jr., Ed.D. Following his military service, he devoted his career to education-supporting and inspiring children in their journey to adulthood. It was in Walterboro that Dr. Richardson learned to fly P40s and P-47 aircrafts. He received his undergraduate degree from Temple University and both master’s and doctorate degrees from Penn State. Presently, he resides in Philadelphia, PA and regularly visits schools telling the story of the Tuskegee Airmen. Lieutenant Colonel (USAF Retired) Robert “Bob” Hughes was the other documented original Tuskegee Airman who was on hand for this celebratory event. He was a former aviation instructor who helped to train the late Lieutenant Colonel (USAF Retired) Hiram E. Mann and other Tuskegee Airmen at the Tuskegee Air Force Base in Alabama. Although he is white, he experienced the effects of racial segregation during his time in the United States Air Force. The Tuskegee Air Force Base was segregated; therefore, he could not live on the base. As soon as he completed his training tour, he had to get off the base because he was white. Presently, he lives in Florida and is a member of the General Daniel (Chappie) James Chapter of the Tuskegee Airmen.
Following the recognition of Dr. Richardson and Colonel Hughes, James Hampton blessed the food. The succulent meal was prepared and served by Flavours of Charleston. The audience feasted on lemon parmesan chicken with white wine sauce, braised beef Sicilian, fresh roasted vegetable medley, oven roasted herbed red potatoes, tossed green salad, assorted desserts, and iced tea.
The highlight of the evening was the message from the keynote speaker, Lieutenant General Stacye D. Harris, Inspector General of the United States Air Force, Office of the Secretary of the Air Force, Washington, D.C., who was introduced by Major General Mitchell. In this capacity, General Harris reports to the Secretary and Chief of Staff of the Air Force on matters concerning Air Force effectiveness, efficiency, and the military discipline of active duty, Air Force Reserve, and Air National Guard forces. She also provides inspection policy and oversees the inspection and evaluation system for all Air Force nuclear and conventional forces; oversees Air Force counterintelligence operations; investigates fraud, waste, and abuse; oversees criminal investigations and provides oversight of complaints resolution programs. General Harris is responsible for two field operating agencies: the Air Force Inspection Agency and the Air Force Officer of Special Investigations.
Prior to General Harris’ current position, President Barack Obama nominated her to be promoted to lieutenant general and become the Assistant Vice Chief of Staff and Director of the Air Staff for the U.S. Air Force. The Senate confirmed the nomination, making her the first African-American woman to achieve the rank of lieutenant general for the Air Force.
In her message to the audience, she focused on a time in history when women couldn’t vote and when African-American men could vote, but had trouble trying to do so. She emphasized that it is now decades after the end of World War II, and more women than ever are “seated at the table,” letting their voices be heard. General Harris’ main three points upon which she expounded were: make sure your voice can be heard-be “seated at the table”-if you have earned it, find and follow your passion in life, and expand your service through Tuskegee Airmen International. Before she concluded her message, she mentioned her most memorable moments in the Air Force: flying the C-141, her role of the Mobilization Assistant Commander of the US Africa Command (AfriCon), and visiting the World Trade Center and seeing the Tuskegee Airmen. She formed a bond with General Benjamin O. Davis, Lt. Col. Hiram Mann, and Lt. Col. Leo Gray. It was from them she learned the history of the Tuskegee Airmen.
As the program continued, Cornelius Plumber gave the founder’s presentation. Colonel Marsha Elam, one of the founders of the Hiram E. Mann Chapter and the organization’s first president, was on hand for remarks. Barron Wilkins recognized the supporters and sponsors: College of Charleston Race and Social Justice Initiative, The Citadel, ACE Communications Net, 15th Airlift Squadron JBC, BOEING, Experimental Aircraft Association, Air Traffic Control Tower CHS, Dr. Larry Ferguson, DMD; USS Yorktown Patriots Point, the Boy Scouts, and C17 Flight Simulator Group JBC.
Kellye Whittaker volunteered many hours assisting with the planning for the gala. Dr. Ann Carmichael, Dean of the University of South Carolina, Salkehatchie Campus, was recognized for her outstanding support of spreading the legacy of the Tuskegee Airmen. Colonel Terrence Adams, Commander of the 628th Air Base Wing, Joint Base Charleston, was also recognized. Closing remarks were made by Thomas Jackson, the president of the chapter.
The Hiram E. Mann Chapter was founded in 1998 and is a 501 (c) 3, non-profit organization, currently serving Walterboro, Charleston, and nearby communities. In addition to its work, preserving and sharing the history and legacy of the Tuskegee Airmen, the chapter awards college scholarships to high school graduates seeking careers in aeronautics. Other officers in the chapter are Cornelius Plumber, vice-president; James Lynch, second vice president; Vondeste Fishburne, secretary; Dorn Slaughter, treasurer; James Hampton, financial secretary; Franklin Smalls, parliamentarian and chaplin; Johnnie Thompson, historian; Eric Harris, public relations officer; and Barron Wilkins, immediate past president.