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Army’s first black helicopter pilot to be honored in West Chester

Captain Joseph H. Hairston (American Helicopter Museum & Education Center/Released)
February 17, 2023

The American Helicopter Museum and Education Center (AHMEC) will honor Captain Joseph H. Hairston, who is believed to be the U.S. Army’s first Black helicopter pilot, on Saturday, February 25, at 2:30 p.m. with the unveiling of its newest exhibit: a banner featuring a brief biography of Hairston and his role in rotary wing aviation.

AHMEC volunteer James Palmer will offer remarks and dedicate the beautiful banner during the hour-long event. Victoria M. Hairston, one of Hairston’s daughters, will also speak about her father.

“The Hairston Family is deeply grateful to the museum in honoring Joseph Hairston as the Army’s first Black Helicopter Pilot,” stated Victoria. “His wife Anna, now 100-years- old, is happy to see that the memory and achievements of her husband are being recognized.”

Hairston, who was born in 1922 in Virginia and grew up in Connellsville, Pennsylvania, joined the Army in 1940. He served as an officer with the 92nd Infantry Division in the Italian Campaign of World War II.

He later trained as an Army helicopter pilot and served in the Korean conflict where he flew an H-13 (Bell 47) for medical evacuation missions. His military designations and awards included Army Aviator, the Air Medal with oak leaf cluster, the National Defense Service Medal, the European — African — Middle Eastern Campaign Medal, the World War II Victory Medal, and the Korean Service Medal with three service stars.

Following retirement from the Army, Hairston earned two law degrees, becoming an attorney for the federal government and senior executive serving as a Division Director in the Internal Revenue Service. He was a key participant in the Civil Rights Movement, serving as a member of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s security detail during the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. He died in 2019.

The ceremony honoring Hairston’s fascinating life is included with the cost of admission.

The American Helicopter Museum and Education Center, located at 1220 American Boulevard, West Chester, is the nation’s premier aviation museum devoted exclusively to helicopters. Established in 1996, the nonprofit organization collects, restores, and displays rotary-wing aircraft, including over 35 civilian and military helicopters, autogyros and convertiplanes.


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