Rise Above tells stories of challenge, victory at Southern Heritage Air Foundation

Published 4:02 pm Thursday, October 12, 2023

William Mitchell sat with other members of the Madison Voluntary Council on Aging Inc. in Tallulah and relived a part of his past as they watched documentaries on the Tuskegee Airmen and the Woman’s Air Force Service Pilots at the Commemorative Air Force’s Rise Above Exhibit at the Vicksburg-Tallulah Regional Airport.

“It brought back memories; it brought back a lot of memories,” said Mitchell, 97 (“97 1/2”), a World War II U.S. Army Air Corps veteran. Mitchell drove fuel trucks during his time in the service.

“I trained at Kelly (Field) in San Antonio, Texas, and when they dropped the bombs I was on Okinawa,” he said. “We were fixin’ to go to Japan.”

Email newsletter signup

Sign up for The Vicksburg Post's free newsletters

Check which newsletters you would like to receive
  • Vicksburg News: Sent daily at 5 am
  • Vicksburg Sports: Sent daily at 10 am
  • Vicksburg Living: Sent on 15th of each month

Mitchell was one of a number of adults and school children who have watched the documentaries at the CAF’s Rise Above Exhibit, which opened Wednesday at the Vicksburg-Tallulah Regional Airport and will be at the airport until Sunday in conjunction with the annual Warbird Formation Clinic hosted by the Southern Heritage Air Foundation and Museum.

The exhibit highlights the stories of the Tuskegee Airmen — African-American pilots who flew in combat in the European Theater during World War II — and the Women’s Air Force Service Pilots (WASPs) who ferried combat aircraft to bases in the U.S., served as test pilots and performed search and rescue flights.

The exhibit’s documentaries address the challenges both groups experienced to reach their goals and send a message to children to dream and achieve.

And it started with a P-51C Mustang fighter in a hangar at a Montana technical school.

“It was built in Dallas, Texas, at North American Aviation in 1943 and never left the states,” said CAF exhibits manager Chris Allen. “It had gone through a number of technical schools as a one-seat trainer and then as propeller-driven aircraft were no longer required in their training services, people used it to do maintenance mechanical training.”

The P-51 was acquired by the Red Wing Minnesota Commemorative Air Force Squadron and squadron leader Doug Rosenthal wanted to tell a story with the plane, Allen said.

“The P-51C was the first frontline fighter that the Tuskegee Airmen finally got, and so it seemed a natural fit to tell the story of the Tuskegee Airmen, which when this (CAF) squadron was formed, was largely unexplored, and bring that story to the people through the aircraft,” Allen said, adding that the plane is only one of four P-51Cs flying in the world.

Rosenthal wanted to put together a way to tell the story of the Tuskegee Airmen “and the idea of having an exhibit like this and that led to the creation of the documentary movie that follows the aircraft and sometimes even goes places the Mustang can’t go,” Allen said.

“We can go to schools and building openings and functions like that the aircraft can’t get to,” Allen said.

Approximately eight years after the movie on the Tuskegee Airmen was implemented, the idea followed for a complimentary feature, leading to the movie on the WASPS.

“They are very complimentary features; people facing higher levels of adversity than everyone is facing at the beginning of the World War and finding ways to overcome,” Allen said.

Having the plane with the exhibit, Allen said, is the perfect situation. It’s even more perfect at the Vicksburg-Tallulah Regional Airport, he added, because Nella, a restored AT-6 trainer that was used by the WASPS in Sweetwater, Texas, is parked next to the P-51.

“When it’s not in the air, it’s parked right over here (by the exhibit) next to the Mustang as well,” he said. “So you’ve got aircraft representing both movies that we show for kids. That’s perfect.”

About John Surratt

John Surratt is a graduate of Louisiana State University with a degree in general studies. He has worked as an editor, reporter and photographer for newspapers in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. He has been a member of The Vicksburg Post staff since 2011 and covers city government. He and his wife attend St. Paul Catholic Church and he is a member of the Port City Kiwanis Club.

email author More by John