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Lackland’s Tuskegee Airmen exhibit opens to the public

Tuskegee Airmen (from left) Eugene Derricotte, Thomas M. Ellis, Granville C. Coggs and James L. Bynum and the commander of Air Education and Training Command, Gen. Robin Rand, cut the ribbon May 4, 2015, at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland’s Airman Heritage Museum. The unveiling ceremony honors the enlisted Tuskegee Airmen, a group of African-American military ground support Airmen who were part of the 332nd Fighter Group and the 477th Bombardment Group during World War II. (U.S. Air Force photo/Johnny Saldivar)

Tuskegee Airmen (from left) Eugene Derricotte, Thomas M. Ellis, Granville C. Coggs and James L. Bynum and the commander of Air Education and Training Command, Gen. Robin Rand, cut the ribbon May 4, 2015, at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland’s Airman Heritage Museum. The unveiling ceremony honors the enlisted Tuskegee Airmen, a group of African-American military ground support Airmen who were part of the 332nd Fighter Group and the 477th Bombardment Group during World War II. (U.S. Air Force photo/Johnny Saldivar)

JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-LACKLAND, Texas (AFNS) -- A new Tuskegee Airmen exhibit officially opened to the public May 4 during a ribbon cutting ceremony at the Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland Airman Heritage Museum.

During the event, which was attended by three original Tuskegee Airmen, service members dressed in uniforms that resembled those worn during World War II and joined a flight of Airmen in modern uniforms to symbolize "one Air Force."

"Today is an amazing day for me to be here. I'm just so honored," said Gen. Robin Rand, the commander of Air Education and Training Command and host of the ceremony. "We owe a debt of gratitude to the Tuskegee Airmen. They paved the way for us.

"Thank you for your service to our nation. I'm honored to be in your presence."

Other activities included a performance by the U.S. Air Force Band of the West and an autograph session with the Tuskegee Airmen.

"This event was more than what I could have hoped for," said Eugene Derricotte, a former pilot and original Tuskegee Airman. "It was nice to come and reminisce and be remembered for this historic event."

Fernando Cortez, a senior exhibit specialist for the Airmen Heritage Museum, was also impressed with the event.

"The turnout was amazing," Cortez said. "Everybody had a great time and got to learn a little about an important part in history."

With the help of a few volunteers, Cortez, who has been with the museum for 17 years, led the group in researching the exhibit and tracking down the items that would help make it look and feel authentic.

Efforts started in early 2014 at the Air Force Historical Research Agency, a repository for Air Force historical documents at Maxwell Air Force Base, Alabama. The agency provides research facilities for professional military education students, the faculty, visiting scholars and the general public. It consists of more than 70 million pages devoted to the history of the service and represents the world's largest and most valuable organized collection of documents on U.S. military aviation.

Extreme detail was used while putting together the exhibit, from the Italian-style stucco on the wall to the tiles on the floor, and the group made sure the exhibit was as accurate as possible.

"The uniforms came from our museum, but a lot of the other items, like the desk and typewriter, came from friends, family or volunteers who donated to the museum," Cortez said.

As for the items that friends and family cannot provide, Cortez said he finds items driving around the local area and fabricates them to make them look 'more authentic.'

"The items we need could be anywhere," he said. "You never know what you can find."

The exhibit was finished earlier this year and is based on Master Sgt. William Harris, a line chief with the 332nd Fighter group who was killed in World War II. It depicts a scene where he is calling a mechanic with instructions to ready a fighter plane for combat, while his administrative typist documents

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