The new $22.6 million structure is used to perform maintenance on equipment for aircraft assigned to the 53rd Weather Reconnaissance Squadron Hurricane Hunters and 815th Airlift Squadron Flying Jennies. The Hurricane Hunters fly the WC-130J model aircraft and the Flying Jennies fly the C-130J-30 stretch model cargo planes.
Colonel Roberts began and ended his military career at Keesler. He joined as an Army Air Corps pre-aviation cadet private at Keesler Field in 1943 and retired from the Air Force as commander of Keesler’s maintenance and supply group 32 years later.
In 1944, he was assigned to the Tuskegee Airmen pilot training program and flew Piper Cubs, Boeing B-25 bombers, C-54 transports and F-86 fighter jets.
After retirement, Colonel Roberts adopted the Mississippi Gulf Coast as his permanent home, and until his death in 2004, he continued his deep involvement with Keesler and the surrounding community.
Following the National Anthem performed by the Keesler Ensemble, Brig. Gen. Ian Dickinson, 81st Training Wing commander, spoke about Colonel Roberts’ influence on the lives he touched.
Brig. Gen. James Muscatell Jr., 403rd Wing commander, reminded the audience of Colonel Roberts’ leadership as a group commander at Keesler.
Three of the colonel’s four children—Sally-Ann Roberts Nabonne, Dorothy Roberts McEwen and Lawrence Roberts II—spoke at the ceremony. His fourth child, ABC’s Good Morning America anchor Robin Roberts, was unable to attend.
“It’s truly hard to find the words to express how inspiring and moving this day has been,” the colonel’s son said. “The facility is wonderful and it’s just a proud moment for our family. Everything is just a true testament to my father’s spirit.”
“Today is awesome!,” said Mrs. Nabonne. She recalled when her family arrived at Keesler on the eve of Hurricane Camille in 1969. She said her father would have responded to the day’s event by asking, “What’s all this fuss about?”
“My father would have said the true heroes are all those military members currently serving their country and everybody else in attendance today,” she continued. “My father loved three things—his country, his family and his almighty God. And through the Air Force he was able to serve all three passionately.”
Lucimarian Roberts, the colonel’s widow, wasn’t able to attend the dedication. Mrs. McEwen read a letter her mother wrote marked by gratitude for the honor bestowed on her husband.
In closing, Maj. Gen. Alfred Flowers, 2nd Air Force commander at the time of the dedication, spoke of the path Colonel Roberts blazed as a Tuskegee Airman. He reminded the audience to follow that path of excellence, success and greatness.
Determined to have Mrs. Roberts share in the event, General Flowers and General Dickinson made it possible for her to see the dedication ceremony and take a virtual tour of the facility through the Air Force’s Defense Connect Online computer system.