101st Anniversary Celebration

by Dr. Richard Stimson

in Celebration Activities

The 101st Celebration of the Wright Brothers’ first flight at Kill Devil Hills, North Carolina, didn’t draw the crowds of the previous year, but unlike the cold, rainy weather of the previous year, it was a beautiful warm day. The celebration has been observed annually since 1928.

Some 300 people gathered to enjoy the program in the temporary First Flight Pavilion built last year for the 100th anniversary. It is a welcomed addition to the Wright Brothers National Park. The master of ceremonies, Ken Mann, forgot that the program was going to be held inside the pavilion and wore his long underwear to protect against the expected cold weather. He said he would remember to wear his short pants next year.

Lawrence Belli, Group Superintendent of the National Park Service Outer Banks, noted that not all future anniversary events will be held in the temporary pavilion, but it’s nice to have the option. The $2.2 million structure will be paid for by the month’s end. A new flat video screen and sound system will be added before next year’s celebration. Eventually a new permanent building is to be added to the visitors’ center.

The highlight of the ceremony was the annual honoring of important people in the history of aviation. This year it was the Tuskegee Airmen of World War II fame. A portrait of General Benjamin Davis and Colonel George “Spanky” Roberts was unveiled in the presence of his widow, Edith Roberts and several Tuskegee airmen.

The training of black airmen began in 1941 in Tuskegee, Alabama. In all, almost 1,000 pilots were trained, 450 deployed overseas and 150 lost their lives in training or combat. The pilots were deployed to North Africa and Europe. None of the bombers escorted by Tuskegee Airmen were lost during World War II.

Sixty-six of the fighter pilots lost their lives and 33 other pilots were shot down and taken prisoner.

These airmen helped open the doors for those who have followed. Their record paved the way for the young people of all races who volunteer for military service.

The picture at left shows Wilson V. Eagleson, Stimson, Leonard “Hawk” Hunter.

General Benjamin O. Davis was one of the first five graduates to earn wings at Tuskegee Army Air Field. He was squadron commander of the 99th Fighter Squadron and later assumed command of the 332nd Fighter Group.

Major George S. “Spanky” Roberts became the commanding officer of the 99th Fighter Squadron. Their portrait will join the portraits of other famous airman including the Wright Brothers in the Paul E. Garber First Flight gallery in the Wright Brothers visitors’ center where a reproduction of the 1903 Flyer is exhibited.

The picture is of Edith Roberts (wife of “Sparky”) and Stimson.

In her talk, Sherry Rollason, Mayor of Kill Devil Hills, clarified that the first flight occurred at Kill Devil Hills. The area where the Wright Monument is located was first referred to as Kill Devil Hills in 1808. The first post office with the name of Kill Devil Hills was established in 1814 and the Kill Devil Hills Life Saving Station was establish in 1878.

The Wrights regularly visited the Village of Kitty Hawk, 4 miles to the north of Kill Devil Hills for supplies and used the telegraph office at the weather bureau at Kitty Hawk to announce their successful first flight.

Lisbeth Evans, NC Secretary of Cultural Resources announced that the sculpture of Johnny Moore will soon be added to the life size, bronze and stainless steel First Flight Sculpture duplicating the photograph of the first flight. The sculpture was installed last year in time for the centennial. The sculpture currently does not include Moore, W.S. Dough, A.D. Etheride and W.C. Brinkley because of budget limiatations. Each new statue costs $40,000.

Johnny Moore was a 16-year old boy who lived in Nags Head woods who just happened to be walking by. After the successful flight, he ran down the beech and yelled, “They done! They done it! damn’d if they ain’t flew!” Moore served as a fishing guide and died in 1952 without ever flying in an airplane.

At the conclusion of the program the large hanger doors at one end of the pavilion were opened to a magnificent view of the Wright Brothers National Memorial. The crowd watched a flyover of a formation of F-15s, a formation of Coast Guard aircraft and the C-54 Candy Bomber of Berlin airlift fame. Following the flyover there was a drop of parachutists, and four aerobatic airplanes thrilled the crowd, many of whom lined the streets outside the park.

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