Reporting Robbie Owens
DALLAS (CBS 11 NEWS) – A grateful nation said goodbye Tuesday to another veteran of the “greatest generation.” Captain Claude Robert Platte, Junior, was born in Denison, Texas… grew up in Fort Worth, and later achieved prominence as a pilot and flight instructor with the famed Tuskegee Airmen.
“Claude Pratte was what you would call a man’s man and a pilot’s pilot,” fellow Tuskegee Airman Robert T. McDaniel said proudly. McDaniel, who was a flight officer with the Tuskegee Airmen, says he and Pratte made quite a few trips together speaking about “what the Tuskegee airmen went through and how much it meant to us to be a part of that activity.”
After all, they were the heroes that history denied. So, it was especially fitting that Captain Platte be buried with all of the military honors that a life of service had earned. Still, friends and family say he was always quiet and humble.
“It was more important to all of the Tuskegee airmen to let children know that whatever they dreamed, they could conceive, if they believed in themselves,” explained Platte’s widow, Erma Bonner Platte. “I was privileged to follow them around as they went around the country telling the story of the Tuskegee airmen, so people would know about their contribution, which wasn’t in the history books.”
In a July interview, Pratte recalled that his love of airplanes began as a child. “I walked from my home to Meacham Field in Fort Worth just to watch the planes. The white instructors would look at me and couldn’t understand why I was there.”
After graduating from I.M. Terrell high school, Pratte attended the Tuskegee Institute and earned a degree in Mechanical Engineering with a minor in Aeronautics. Years later, he would enter a segregated military and teach hundreds of black cadets to fly.
Many WWII commanders thought blacks were incapable of flying sophisticated aircraft – but, the Tuskegee airmen proved them wrong, while amassing unmatched military records as bomber escorts.
“The more that people told him that he couldn’t do something, the more he did it,” recalled McDaniel, “not only to prove it to himself; but, to prove it to all of the people that doubted him. He was something else.”
Captain Pratte would go on to become the first black officer commissioned in the reopened Air Force Pilot Training Program. In 2007, he and other surviving Tuskegee airmen were awarded the Congressional Gold Medal.
Captain Pratte was buried at DFW National Cemetery with full military honors. The Patriot Guard riders provided an escort.
“He was the heart of my heart, that’s what he was to me,” said his widow, Erma. “He was my friend, he was my pal, and we did most everything together. We just had a very happy time.”
“Not only was he a citizen,” recalled McDaniel, “but, he was a pilot, and a good friend, and a good man.”
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