Brian Scott, NBC 5 Denton County Reporter
An American hero and trailblazer was laid to rest at DFW National Cemetery Tuesday. Claude Platte Jr. was a member of the now-famous Tuskegee Airmen, the country's first team of all African-American fighter pilots.
One of America's few remaining Tuskegee Airmen was laid to rest Tuesday.
Hundreds came out to honor Claude R. Platte Jr., who was escorted to his final resting place at Dallas-Fort Worth National Cemetery by the Patriot Guard Riders.
"I am very humbled by the outpour," said Platte's wife, Erma Bonner Platte. "It is enormous, and I am very appreciative."
Most of the crowd best knew Platte for his time with the now well-known World War II Tuskegee Airmen and for his tireless efforts after the war to earn the group recognition in the pages of history.
In the early 1940s, when segregation was still rampant in the United States, blacks were not allowed to fight as pilots in the military. Some of Platte's fellow airmen said they were told they lacked the intelligence and heart to do so.
After a lot of pressure, the Tuskegee Institute was formed in Tuskegee, Ala., in 1941, and it began training black pilots.
Platte became primary flight instructor, helping train 300 airmen to fly PT13s, PT17s and PT19s.
"I moved out here, and he was one of the first persons I met out here, and he was always willing to help," said Calvin Spann, a pilot and longtime friend.
According to Tuskegee Airmen Inc., the institute graduated nearly 1,000 pilots. The team flew more than 1,500 missions to become an essential force for the military during World War II.
However, after the war, the Tuskegees came back to find segregation still alive in the United States. Over the years, stories of the team and what members did were often left out of the history books, Spann said.
"Our kids should know," he said.
Tuskegee veterans -- especially Platte -- saw to it that they would.
"Then they decided that they would tell the story anyway, because they didn't want the same thing to happen again in American history," Erma Platte said.
Claude Platte toured the country with several other original Tuskegee Airmen to tell their story, especially to children to inspire them to reach their goals.
"He was one of the leaders in making that true," Spann said.
Platte also formed the DFW Tuskegee Airmen Chapter in May 2005 to help educate people at home. In 2007, he, along with his fellow surviving airmen, received the Congressional Gold Medal from President George W. Bush.
As Platte was placed in his final resting place Tuesday, his surviving Tuskegee Airmen and his family said his mission and his story will carry on.
"It's not the individual, it's what we did, and I know it will live on," Spann said.
His wife said he was, most of all, a great husband.
"He was a very quiet and humble man but that he truly did love his country and that he really did love to fly," she said. "He was the heart of my heart; that's what he was to me. He was my friend, he was my pal, and we just did most everything together. We just had a very happy time."