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Wings And Wheels To Benefit Area Veterans

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Lt. Col. George Hardy, a member of the famed Tuskeegee Airman, will appear at the Wings & Wheels happening.

A combined display of many kinds of aircraft, cars and motorcycles comes to Tallahassee's International Airport this Saturday. Neil Rambana is one of the happening's prime movers. For one thing, this 32nd Degree Mason is very involved in the area's Masonic activities. He's also an avid small airplane pilot and - we should add in full disclosure- is the senior partner in the Rambana and Ricci Immigration Law Firm, which is a regular supporter of WFSU.

"The 6th Masonic District is working together with Stand Down, the organization that every year they put together a program that assists vets in our North Florida area - or from anywhere, actually if they want to come down and get some help - Stand Down is there for them", said Ramabana.

The resulting event is called "Wings and Wheels." It will happen Saturday, Sept. 18 in the civil aviation area of Tallahassee International Airport.

"The Flightline Group has been generous to allow us to have the space to be able to display the planes on the tarmac, and to have the cars and motorcycles also there for purposes of competing to win trophies and prizes."

As the "Wings and Wheels" name indicates, Rambana said the show will feature a vast assortment of vehicles that either run on the road or fly in the air. Including some rare and historic military planes.

"We're going to have some from the War Birds, which are from World War II; at least 2 War Birds coming up. The Air Force is also supposed to have some planes there and private pilots who want to drop in and display their airplanes. We're going to have at least 150 cars and at least 20 motorcycles."

Many of these also being collectibles and exotics. Rambana said there will also be an aviator who made history.

"Lt. Col. George Hardy of the Tuskeegee Airmen. 96 years old and he's going to be our guest of honor on September 17th. We're going to do a reception for him to welcome him to Tallahassee for his support of this fundraiser."

Hardy flew with the famed unit of African-American Mustang fighter pilots in World War II. His aviation career continued into the Vietnam conflict where his service included piloting the terrifying AC-119 gunships.

"The ones I flew had many guns on the side and also had 20 mm Gatling guns with 6 rotating barrels and it could out 20 mm shells 100 per SECOND!" he recalled during a pre-event telephone interview.

But far more significant was Hardy's role as a pioneer in desegregating the U-S military. After World War II, he was first assigned to Lockbourne Air Force Base near Columbus, Ohio. At the time, it was the only base for Black service personnel.

"The Air Force plan for racial integration was approved in 1949 and Lockbourne was de-activated the end of June in 1949 and within weeks, all the African-American people at Lockbourne were being transferred to other bases around the world."

Hardy acknowledged it was by no means a simple - or trouble-free - transition.

"Well, it was tough! When I finished school in '49 in August and went to the 19th Bomb Group, I was the first African-American or Colored officer assigned to the 19th."

A not altogether comfortable situation, Hardy admitted. But he'll be sharing that history along with other highlights of his remarkable flying career during his Tallahassee visit this weekend. Friday's reception for Lt. Col. Hardy will take place at Charlie Park. That's on the top floor of the brand new A.C. Marriott Hotel that overlooks Cascades Park. The following day, says Neil Rambana, is the actual airport happening.

"The show itself is on September 18th from 9 a.m. until 3 p.m. and it's free to the general public."

It's the proceeds from the aircraft and ground vehicle registration fees that will provide the financial help for Tallahassee's veterans served by Stand Down.