Tuskegee Airman William Hicks, 91, joined the ceremony at Esmark’s headquarters, where a $5,000 check was presented to members of the memorial project. Hicks served with the airmen on the ground crew as an aircraft mechanic in World War II.
Included with the check was a pledge from Brian Bergman, senior vice president of Esmark and president of Esmark Aviation, to give an additional $15,000 provided fundraising is complete and construction on the project begins within two years. Esmark Aviation owns and leases business aircraft for private charter and emergency medical response services around the world.
"We are delighted to recognize the unsung achievements of these heroic flyers, many of whom were born and raised in western Pennsylvania," said James Bouchard, chairman and founder of Esmark.
Regis Bobonis Sr., founder and chairman of the memorial organization, said the donation will help provide funds needed to complete and preserve the Tuskegee Airmen Memorial Project, which honors the history of Western Pennsylvania’s first black military airmen.
"We are grateful and honored to have received the support from Esmark and the Bouchards," Bobonis said.
Hicks said he was especially thankful for the donation.
“I never thought when I was working in the mud and working on those airplanes, that it would escalate to this,” said Hicks, a former Pittsburgh resident, who now lives in North Carolina. “I appreciate this. This is an honor that I never thought I would receive.”
Western Pennsylvania had the largest contingent of soldiers enlisted in the Tuskegee Airmen program, with Sewickley contributing eight, according to the Daniel B. Matthews Historical Society.
A groundbreaking ceremony took place in November as part of the 70th anniversary and Bobonis said the monument's first phase is expected to begin in August.
A technology component that was added to plans will allow families and visitors to use their smartphones at the memorial to find video and pictures of individuals who served.
Bobonis said a thank you concert is also planned for Sept. 22 at Sewickley United Methodist Church to thank all donors for their tremendous response and support.
Read more about William Hicks' experiences Sunday on Patch.