Col. Tom Sherman, 88th Air Base Wing and installation commander, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, along with the great grandniece and great grandnephew of the Wright brothers, joined together the morning of Dec. 17 to lay a wreath commemorating the 115th anniversary of practical powered flight.
The event, which has become an annual tradition in the Miami Valley since it was first celebrated in 1978 for the 75th anniversary, took place at the Wright Brothers Memorial on top of the Wright Brothers Memorial Hill overlooking Huffman Prairie. The memorial adjoins the base’s Area B.
In his opening remarks, Sherman reminded the audience about the Wright brothers’ drive and tenacity and how those led to practical powered flight. The Wright brothers’ work changed the world and led to the formation of the Air Force, he said.
The event’s keynote speaker was Tony Sculimbrene, former executive director of the National Aviation Heritage Alliance and now a Greene County Park District commissioner. The alliance is the management entity of the National Aviation Heritage Area, one of 49 national heritage areas designated by Congress as having a cohesive, distinctive landscape of historic and cultural resources of national importance.
Sculimbrene outlined ways in which the Dayton community did not always do its best to honor and preserve the Wright brothers’ historical work sites but is now working to protect them. He acknowledged a number of individuals, including leadership at Wright-Patterson AFB decades ago, who agreed to preserve and protect aviation assets, including the Wright Brothers Memorial and Huffman Prairie.
“Having a national park to honor the Wrights and the Dayton aviation stories that are mostly created here at this location, at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, and the story of Paul Laurence Dunbar, is certainly a success story we can be proud of,” Sculimbrene said. “Yes, it took a lot longer to earn our park than it should have, but it finally happened, and it is clearly a great achievement.”
He pointed to future opportunities for further preservation, including the Wright Company Factory, the first airplane factory site in the U.S. and the oldest such site in the world. It is located on the former Delphi Home Avenue plant.
According to its website, NAHA has worked to have the factory preserved and restored as a unit of the Dayton Aviation Heritage National Historical Park, completing the story of the Wright brothers’ invention, development and commercialization of the airplane in Dayton. The site is closed to the public. On Oct. 3, the City of Dayton authorized the city manager to acquire the factory site.
“While our new park superintendent is ready to take on that challenge, the community needs to step up and restore that site,” Sculimbrene said. “This project will tell the final chapter of the lives of Wilbur and Orville Wright together.”
He also highlighted the need for preservation of a mural painted by World War II prisoners of war inside Bldg. 280, Area A, Wright-Patterson AFB.
“What happens in a community, and the culture that is associated with its history, always shapes what people think of where they live and how others outside the region see it,” he said.
Following Sculimbrene’s remarks, Kendell Thomson, park superintendent, presented a presidential proclamation prior to the wreath-laying ceremony with members of the Wright family.
Sherman, Chief Master Sgt. Stephen Arbona, 88 ABW command chief, and Wright descendants Amanda Wright Lane and Stephen Wright then placed a wreath in front of the obelisk of the memorial, which was dedicated in 1940 with Orville Wright in attendance.
Concluding the event was the flyover of a Boeing C-17 Globemaster III belonging to the 445th Airlift Wing, based at Wright-Patterson AFB.