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Chautauqua aces its second night

By Michael Harrington • Jun 13, 2019 at 4:00 PM

MILAN — Ohio Chautauqua flew to new heights Wednesday with the reenactment of Air Force General Benjamin O. Davis Jr.

The Ohio Humanities’ Chautauqua event — a five-day event combining performances of historical figures, lectures and live music — hosted its second night in Milan for this years “Modern Legends” tour.

J. Holmes Armstead, a PhD., portrayed General Davis who was the commander of Tuskegee Airmen in World War II and the first African-American Air Force General.

“He was a great commander who motivated his pilots,” said Armstead who is retired professor of strategy from the U.S. Naval War College. “They never lost a bomber in all the missions where they accompanied one. It’s the only fighter group that can say that.”

Davis followed in his father’s footsteps and was accepted into West Point, but flying was always his dream.

Armstead’s performance explored the adversity Davis faced at West Point and the obstacles that blocked his path to becoming a pilot.

“It was interesting to hear what he went through to become a pilot,” Milan resident Jim Colwell. “It was a great history lesson.”

While at West Point, he applied for the Army Air Corp. —the precursor of the Air Force — but was denied because it didn’t accept African-Americans.

But in 1941, the military was ordered to create an African-American flying unit and Davis was a part of the first training class at Tuskegee Army Air Field.

During World War II, Davis commanded of the Tuskegee Airmen, an all African-American squadron, helping turn it one of the most effective in the war.

At the end of his performance, Armstead stepped out of character to answer questions. He received a standing ovation from the audience.

“It was an awesome performance,” Milan resident Ken Keller said. “I learned a lot and I’m so glad they’re doing this again.”

Chautauqua carries on until Saturday with programs during the day and live music at 6:30 p.m. followed by a reenactment at 7:30 p.m.

Today’s reenactment showcases Karen Vuranch performance as Julia Child, a chef for renowned for popularizing French cuisine in America.

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