Stretch of I-57 named for Tuskegee Airmen
BY HANNAH KOHUT Correspondent February 20, 2012 1:42PM
Tuskegee Airmen Virgil Poole, 91, of Glenwood (center) and Robert Martin, 93, of Olympia Fields (right) autograph a mock-up of a new highway marker sign naming a portion of I-57 in the honor of the Tuskegee Airmen during a dedication ceremony at Markham City Hall in Markham, Illinois, Monday, February, 20, 2012. | Joseph P. Meier~Sun-Times Media
Updated: May 9, 2012 10:16AM
When a 91-year-old veteran who helped make history during World War II says an event is “the culmination of my life,” it carries some real meaning.
But that’s how Virgil Poole, of Glenwood, said he felt Monday at a dedication ceremony for the renaming of a nearly 20-mile stretch of Interstate 57 in honor of the Tuskegee Airmen.
The portion of I-57 from Exit 339 at Sauk Trail to Exit 358 at Wentworth Avenue in Chicago will be renamed the “Tuskegee Airmen Memorial Trail” to remember the airmen, a group of black military members — mostly fighter pilots — who broke racial barriers by serving in the Air Force during World
The Illinois Legislature in May passed a joint resolution calling for the name change, and at least 300 people packed city hall in Markham on Monday as Gov. Pat Quinn joined local service organizations for the dedication ceremony.
New signage is to be installed along both the northbound and southbound lanes beginning Tuesday.
Chicago-area Tuskegee Airmen were treated to a heroes-style reception, with lines of attendees seeking autographs and photos after the formal part of the ceremony.
One of the original Airmen, Robert Martin, 93, of Olympia Fields, said the recognition is “long overdue.”
“I was a private pilot through the war,” Martin said. “We protected the bombers and were based in southern Italy. I’m very happy to get this recognition. All the national recognition is a wonderful thing. It’s very important for our nation’s history.”
Quinn said the I-57 signs will provide memorials for future generations.
“We don’t want the Tuskegee Airmen to ever be forgotten,” he said. “It’s very important that we understand they volunteered during the most difficult time for our nation, when we were threatened. Through this, their legacy will always be with us.”
Before he introduced the Airmen, Ken Rapier, the president of the Chicago chapter of the Tuskegee Airmen, said, “It’s not an oversight that you will not hear anyone’s rank. The reason for that is the Tuskegee Airmen considered themselves equals. They fought for equality.”
He said a “threefold mission for permanency” to the Tuskegee Airmen’s legacy included getting the Airmen inducted into the Illinois Aviation Hall of Fame, the establishment of the Tuskegee Airmen Memorial Trail and getting a Tuskegee Airmen postage stamp issued.
Widows of original Tuskegee Airmen also were honored, including Yola Moore, 87, of Robbins.
“I never thought I’d see that big of a piece of the interstate named for them,” Moore said, “but they’re worth it. They’re worth it.”
Her husband, Flarzell Moore, who died in 1987, graduated from the Tuskegee air school as a lieutenant, Moore said.
“He’d come home and I used to read to him because he would fall asleep, he was so tired,” Moore said. “They would call him all kinds of names all day. They promised not to let it touch them. They said, ‘You can hurt me, but I will not hurt you back. I’ll take it and do something opposite, something good for me and the world.’ ”
Bev Dunjill, 84, of Chicago, president emeritus of the Chicago chapter and a former Airman, said with tears, “It would be impossible and against the law for people like us today to be here because of the laws of the time. And yet, because this country has turned 180 degrees, we’re able to do the things we do today.
“Thank God. God bless America.”
Alexis Huff, of Chicago’s South Side, said five of her uncles were Tuskegee Airmen. She brought her 7-year-old son, Alex, to the ceremony to “witness history,” she said.
“I wanted him to see this,” Huff said. “This is amazing. Just amazing.”