Editor’s note: This story has been modified from the way it originally appeared in the Star-Telegram and on star-telegram.com to correct the fact that the Tuskegee Airmen, as a group, received the Congressional Gold Medal in 2007.Claude R. Platte, one of the famed Tuskegee Airmen of World War II, was a guest a few years back at an airshow at Sheppard Air Force Base near Wichita Falls. A young African-American serviceman confided that he felt he was being mistreated. Perhaps he thought he’d get a sympathetic ear from Mr. Platte. “But,” Mr. Platte’s wife, Erma Platte, said Wednesday, “my husband very calmly told this young man that what he was going through was a piece of cake.”Then Mr. Platte promised the young man that if he made it through the training program, he’d return for the graduation ceremony to pin on his wings.“And that’s what he did,” she said. “It was so dramatic for that young man. He cried and everyone applauded.”Mr. Platte, who actively represented the Tuskegee Airmen until recently, died Friday in Fort Worth. He was 92.In August, he attended the opening of “The Test,” a traveling exhibit at the Lenora Rolla Heritage Center Museum in Fort Worth, which runs through November. The exhibit recounts the combat record of the African-American airmen, but also the prejudice they confronted at home.The U.S. military was segregated during World War II; many commanders believed African-Americans were not smart enough to be fighter pilots, but aviators from Tuskegee Army Airfield in Alabama proved otherwise.Although he did not serve in combat, Mr. Platte trained more than 300 Tuskegee cadets.“He made sure that they knew the opportunity,” said Al Henderson, past president of the Claude R. Platte D/FW Chapter of Tuskegee Airmen. A 1925 study conducted by the U.S. military concluded that black pilots were not mentally capable of flying sophisticated airplanes, Henderson said.“They understood that,” he said of the Tuskegee cadets, “and [Mr. Platte] kept every one of them competing. “They were driven to succeed.”Claude Robert Platte Jr. was born March 16, 1921, in Denison to Marie and Claude Platte Sr. His family later moved to Fort Worth where he graduated from I.M. Terrell High School. In earlier interviews, Mr. Platte described how he marveled at seeing aircraft flying over North Texas and vowed to become a pilot. He enrolled at Tuskegee Institute, a college for African-Americans founded by Booker T. Washington, and received a degree in mechanical engineering. He also earned a flight instructor rating. Although U.S. armed forces were segregated in the 1940s, the military established a flight training program attached to Tuskegee for black cadets.“I realized then that I was as good as the next man,” Mr. Platte said. “It did me good to upset some people.”Mr. Platte retired with the rank of captain in the early 1970s and had a second career working in metallurgy for Bell Helicopter, Erma Platte said.The Plattes were married in 1978. It was his first marriage, she said. He became stepfather to her son, Alfred Williams.She recalled how her husband was very particular about the lengthy metal tests he conducted for Bell; he frequently went to check on them in the middle of the night, and was still on time for work in the morning.“He was what you’d call a quiet professional,” she said.A few years ago, his alma mater, now called Tuskegee University, awarded him an honorary doctorate, his wife said. He was among 300 veterans who attended a 2007 ceremony in which President George W. Bush awarded the Congressional Gold Medal to all Tuskegee Airmen. Nearly two years later, he was in the presence of another U.S. president when he was invited with other Tuskegee Airmen to attend the inauguration of Barack Obama.Other survivors include a sister, Marie Platte Godsey of New Rochelle, N.Y. This article includes information from Star-Telegram archives.
Bill Miller, 817-390-7684 Twitter: @Bill_MillerST