From the Archives: “DODO”s Honored at Black Wings Exhibit Opening

By July 16, 2023 No Comments

From the Archives: The Flight Plan Newsletter, Vol. XI no. 1, January 2004, Chicago DODO Chapter, Tuskegee Airmen, Inc.
Submitted by Bobbie M. Anthony-Perez

On December 16, 2003, thirty “DODO” Chapter members, the Leadership Advisory group of the Art Institute, employees of the Institute, public officials, members of the media, and others attended a slide show about the Tuskegee Airmen, a lecture by Dominick Pisano (a curator at the Smithsonian Institution National Air and Space Museum), and a panel discussion featuring “DODO”s Beverly Dunjill and Shelby Westbrook and moderated by CBS Channel 2 Weatherman and former American Airlines pilot, Jim Tilmon. “DODO”s Debra Rice and Oliver Jones made remarks.

Prior to the events mentioned above, several “DODO”s who arrived early were taken on a tour of the aerospace exhibit, where many photographs were taken of us by Art Institute personnel. Following the tour, a dinner reception was provided before the main event. At the reception, Beverly Dunjill was presented an award for the “DODO”s. In accepting, Beverly pointed out that the Tuskegee Airmen are history, and so the award was presented to history itself.

Exhibit Curator Pisano Acknowledges Tuskegee “DODO” Bill Thompson’s Contributions

Following the brief slide show, a large audience of approximately 250 people was thanked for coming by Debra Rice, who said she looked forward to an enlightening evening. She talked about her father’s role as a Tuskegee Airman. Pisano, a co-author of Black Wings: The American Black in Aviation, acknowledged the large contribution of “DODO” Bill Thompson to Pisano’s endeavors and talked about the conception and structure of the Black Wings exhibit.

Pisano said there was little about Blacks and women in the National Air and Space Museum when he became involved in 1982. The Congressional Black Caucus wanted the Tuskegee Airmen to be in the exhibit. Pisano was steered to “DODO”s Harold Hurd and Bill Thompson. He obtained information from Enoch Waters of the Chicago Defender and Tuskegee Airman Benjamin O. Davis. Ultimately, a network of people was established, and Pisano learned about Bessie Coleman, Eugene Bullard, Cornelius Coffey, John Robinson, and others. He noted that Blacks established their own aviation clubs to get around not being able to join white aviation groups., and he detailed U.S. President Harry Truman’s integration of the military. Pisano said that William Powell’s book Black Wings was a source for him, as well as the other books.

What’s Important about the Smithsonian’s Black Wings Exhibit?

He answered his question, “What’s important about the exhibit?” by stating that nine million people a year visit the Museum; and that people are fascinated by the exhibit. Eighteen thousand copies of Black Wings had been sold since 1982. Pisano stated that there was a traveling exhibit in place for more than 20 years and that an upgrade of the exhibit was being discussed. He would like to get donations of items from individuals for the Museum, to get ideas regarding fundraisers, and to incorporate chapters of TAI into the exhibit by obtaining speakers to educate the public, and so on.

Shelby Westbrook Talks of WWII

In the opening panel discussion, Oliver Jones spoke about the “DODO” website and newsletter and described the categories of membership of the “DODO”s. Shelby Westbrook told how he was interested in planes while growing up and of his high-school experiences with mechanics and welding. When World War II began, he knew he didn’t want to walk: so he decided to fly and came to Chicago to take an exam. After training at Tuskegee, he was shipped to Europe and flew missions over 12 different countries. He learned a lot about geography. On his 31st mission, he crash-landed in Yugoslavia. Shelby provided details about his missions.

Bev Dunjill Shares Stories

Beverly Dunjill was too young to fly in World War II. He told if his combat flying during the Korean War, and how the planes he flew differed from those flown by the Tuskegee Airmen in World War II. Beverly said he had been interested in flying since he was three years old, and he had flown since he was sixteen, before he could legally drive a car. Bev told of his experiences as a “test pilot”, and how he had to do things in reverse in one plane.

Jim Tilmon stated that his father told him he could do anything he wanted to do.

Jim Tilmon, after moderating the question-and-answer period, said: “Tomorrow, we’ll celebrate Orville and Wilbur Wright, but if it hadn’t been for the Tuskegee Airmen, I would not have had my long career with American Airlines. The Tuskegee Airmen risked their lives, but in the real world, people still don’t understand that Blacks can fly as well as Whites. We should let young people know that there is no limit to what they can do with their talents. I pray that one day my granddaughter will not take seconds. I’m so proud of the Tuskegee Airmen.”

Read more about the Smithsonian’s Black Wings Exhibit and Book Collection.


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