SEWICKLEY (KDKA) — African-Americans were barred from flying for the U.S. military until 1941, but pilots trained at Tuskegee Institute in Alabama broke the color barrier in World War II.

Thursday, ground was broken at Sewickley Cemetery for a monument to their courage and determination. Artist Ray Simon unveiled a painting depicting a P-51 warplane, piloted by a Tuskegee Airman, shooting down an enemy craft on the Austrian border.

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“It’ll be the largest full color outdoor monument in the United States of America,” he said. “It’ll be 40 porcelain tiles, edge to edge.”

Former airmen were on hand for the ceremony, including Dr. Harold Lanauze of McKeesport. He helped break the color barrier when he piloted a P-51 fighter plane over Nazi positions in Italy.

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“We weren’t given a chance,” he recalled. “We being all the black people that were in the service. We were not given a chance and once we got the chance we took advantage of it.”

George Charlton Jr. was among the last of the so-called “Buffalo Soldiers.” He was denied entrance to a restaurant when he returned home from the war. “They said ‘You can’t eat here.’ And I said ‘What are you talking about?’ ‘We don’t serve blacks.'”

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Belatedly, they are recognized as heroes. Work on the monument site will begin on March 7, 2012, the 71st anniversary of the very first class of Tuskegee Airmen.