A Little Bit of History

Dorianne Villani looks at the autographed biography of Tuskegee Airman Ezra Hill, Sr., U.S. Air Force, Master Sergeant retired, that she framed for presentation to the USO Center at Norfolk International Airport.

A small piece of history now dons a wall of the USO of Hampton Roads and Central Virginia (HRCV) center at the Norfolk International Airport (ORF) all thanks to Dorianne Villani who has worked as a volunteer there for many years. But that’s not the only place she volunteers. Villani has also been a long-time volunteer with the Virginia Arts Festival (VAF). The VAF annually hosts the Virginia International Tattoo (VIT) which is a military music festival as part of their schedule where they highlight US military entities as a thank you for their service. In 2011, the highlighted group were five Hampton Roads members of the original Tuskegee Airmen. A call went out for volunteers to escort the five Tuskegee Airmen during their visit to the Scope Arena in Norfolk and Villani happily raised her hand. She would escort Grant S. Williams, Sr. (Chief Master Sergeant, U.S. Air Force, retired) during the long day of events including bringing the distinguished gentleman on stage.

While at one of the receptions for the Tuskegee Airmen during the day, Williams was handing out his biography and photo, and Villani asked him to sign one for her. Another Tuskegee Airman, Ezra M. Hill, Sr., (Master Sergeant, U.S Air Force, retired) was handing out posters of the aircraft they flew and worked on, so Villani picked up one of those, and she asked them both to autograph it for her, as well. “I’ve just been treasuring them all these years,” said Villani of the now framed biography and pictures. But she has been volunteering with the USO at the airport for seven years and thought the center director there, Len Friddle (U.S. Navy Captain, retired) might want them to display. “He said he would be honored to display them with the other branches of the military here at the USO,” she said. “I’m proud to bring their story to be represented at the USO.”

Dorianne Villani presents Tuskegee Airmen framed picture and biography to Len Friddle, USO of Hampton Roads and Central Virginia center director, at the Norfolk International Airport location.

On February 9, Villani presented the framed biography and picture to the ORF USO Center director, Friddle, so that they could be hung for visitors to read more about Williams’ story as a Tuskegee Airman and to see the famed combat aircraft that they flew and maintained. “It’s a significant part of history of what they were able to accomplish in so many different areas and ways,” said her husband, Dan. “They are so deserving of this recognition.”

For those unfamiliar with the Tuskegee Airmen, they were the first African-American military pilots who flew and fought during World War ll. They flew different fighter and bomber aircraft throughout the war but were most famously known for flying the P-51 Mustang fighters with painted red tails. These U.S Army Air Corps pilots and maintainers trained at many bases during the war, but were mostly trained and educated at Tuskegee Army Air Field (TAAF) and Tuskegee Institute (now Tuskegee University) near Tuskegee, Alabama.

Dorianne Villani and her husband, Dan Villani, look at the mounted pictures on the wall of the USO center at the Norfolk International Airport with Len Friddle, Captain, US Navy retired, USO HRCV center director.

The Tuskegee Airmen began heavy bomber escort missions in 1944 and painted the tails of their aircraft red to distinguish them from other escort fighters. They were the first black aviators in the US Armed Forces, and many of these Airmen became General Officers throughout their careers. For all those who participated in the Tuskegee Airmen Program, President George W. Bush presented them the Congressional Gold Medal in March 2007 at the U.S. Capitol.

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