The American Legion aims to honor the contributions of the Tuskegee Airmen, the first African-American aviators of the U.S. military. 

That will be done Saturday during a picnic at the Booker T. Washington Cemetery, where Legion Post 20 Historian Paul McKinstry said three of those heroes are buried.

“The first one honored the Doughboys of World War I, and this year we’re honoring the Airmen,” McKinstry said. “That’s the reason we chose the Booker T. Washington Cemetery for this year’s event.”

The Second Annual Heroes and Hotdogs Picnic will be from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday. Free hot dogs and drinks will be available for those who visit the cemetery to honor the Airmen, modern veterans, and civilians who help maintain the cemetery during those hours will get free hot dogs and drinks. 

“We want to show comprehensive coverage and show appreciation for all those who have helped, including those whose work is just not seen right away,” American Legion Post 20 Adjutant Raul Rizo said. “We want to honor the people who help clean the cemetery, too.”

McKinstry said Muskogee High School’s Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps has been spending time cleaning the cemetery leading up to the event. 

“We want to thank them, too, for the respect they’re showing,” McKinstry said.

In doing all this, the Legion hopes to highlight Booker T. Washington Cemetery, McKinstry said — and hopefully encourage more volunteer work to help clean the place.

“We want to keep attention on the cemetery,” McKinstry said. “I would like young people to know who’s buried here and what they did for our country.”

It was the condition of veterans’ gravestones in Greenhill Cemetery, in fact, that first inspired the event.

“We got to looking at the markers, and they were in extreme disrepair,” McKinstry said while discussing plans for the inaugural event. “I thought about it, and I prayed about it, and I came up with the idea to have a picnic in the cemetery.”

There were 500 hotdogs handed out to 400 people during the 2018 event, McKinstry said. This year, they’re hoping to grow.

“It’s becoming really well known,” McKinstry said. “I can see this becoming a yearly thing, and happening in other cemeteries.”

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