Traveling Exhibit Gives Students Visual Lesson on WWII Pilots

VIENNA, Ohio – Warren City Schools students on Wednesday got a visual history lesson about two inspirational World War II squadrons. 

A traveling exhibit that honors the Tuskegee Airmen and the Women Airforce Service Pilots is visiting the Youngstown-Warren Regional Airport to memorialize and educate the community about their legacies.

The Rise Above Traveling Exhibit is a movie theater inside a fully functional 53-foot semitruck. The exhibit features two original short films about the history of the two squadrons, their contributions to World War II and their accomplishments after the war.

Alongside the short films, the exhibit features the authentic World War II P-51C Mustang fighter aircraft, which was flown by Tuskegee Airmen and known for its signature red tail.

The Warren Heritage Center coordinated the event for the students at Warren City Schools to give a visual learning opportunity that coincided with their school curriculum. 

James Valesky, president of the Warren Heritage Center, said the center’s goal is to provide accessible and historically accurate educational opportunities for school-age children. He also said it was a great opportunity for students to witness historically marginalized groups overcome obstacles.

“It’s the, ‘How do children know where they’re going in life if they don’t know where they came from?’” Valesky said. “I just love the name of this event – Rise Above. It describes perfectly what these groups did, and it’s so inspirational.”

The Tuskegee Airmen were America’s first Black military pilots and support personnel. The airmen were best known for their excellence in air combat and challenging unfair stereotypes and rules that barred Black men from serving as pilots.

The WASP were America’s first female pilots to fly military aircraft. Women were originally barred from any involvement in the military’s aviation, but a lack of male pilots created a need for pilots on the home front. Women were allowed to fly, test and service all the military aircraft at home but were still barred from combat.

Both groups were eager to be a part of the war effort despite the obstacles and inequality, according to the Commemorative Air Force Rise Above’s website

There is one lesson Valesky wants the children and the community to take away from the exhibit.

“We tell these kids so they can absorb this and to never let anyone tell them you can’t do it – because you can,” Valesky said. “Maybe some speed bumps along the way, maybe someone will treat you differently – move past it. Don’t let that get you down, and use it to make yourself stronger.”

James Valesky, president of the Warren Heritage Center, speaks during Wednesday’s event. Joining him were Wendy Hartzell, chief academic officer for Warren City Schools, and Anthony Trevena, executive director of the Western Reserve Port Authority.

Wendy Hartzell, chief academic officer, said the students were inspired by the short films and the stories of the squadrons. 

“As the children were coming out, you could hear their excitement – ‘When I grow up, I want to be a nurse or a pilot,’” Hartzell said. 

Hartzell also said that the students are learning about the Tuskegee Airmen and the WASP, but this event was able to bring their stories to life. Each student also received the book “Keep Your Airspeed Up: The Story of a Tuskegee Airman,” written by Harold H. Brown, a retired Tuskegee Airman.

Christopher Allen, the curator and director of CAF Rise Above, said this is a rare and excellent event for children and the community.

“Think back to when you were a kid and you were able to get some visual and hands-on learning outside of the classroom. That is what they are getting to experience now, and it makes learning just that much more fun,” Allen said. “They also have the rare opportunity to see authentic, fighter aircraft, which doesn’t always happen when we travel.”

The P-51C aircraft used by the Tuskegee Airmen is available for viewing at the Youngstown-Warren Regional Airport.

Valesky said he was inspired to bring CAF Rise Above to the area because of his love for history and his own life experiences and wanted to give a similar experience. 

“I’m former military, former U.S. Marine. I flew with [Marine Helicopter Squadron One], so I’ve always liked flying. I love aircraft, I love history and I loved the message,” Valesky said. “My parents gave me all the opportunities for education, and one of those things was they took me to Tuskegee, Alabama. A lot of these kids won’t have that opportunity.”

Erin Miller will be a guest speaker at 5 p.m. Saturday. Miller’s grandmother was a former WASP, and Miller was able to get legislation passed that allowed members of WASP to be buried at the Arlington National Cemetery.

The Rise Above Traveling Exhibit will be available for public viewing from 1 to 6 p.m. Thursday and Friday, and from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday and Sunday at the Youngstown-Warren Regional Airport.

Pictured at top: A film plays inside the Rise Above Traveling Exhibit’s mobile movie theater, which features a 160-degree panoramic screen to create the feeling of being in a cockpit.

Copyright 2024 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.