This story originally aired in March 2013:
Captain Claude Platte just turned 92 years-old. I sat down with him in his Fort Worth home to talk to him about his life experiences. We discussed Platte making history as the first black pilot in the United States Air Force and one of the original Tuskegee Airmen.
Before 1940, African-Americans were barred from flying for the U.S. military. Civil rights organizations and the black media pressured the Government, which later formed an all African-American pursuit squadron based in Tuskegee, Alabama, in 1941. They became known as the Tuskegee Airmen.
“Tuskegee Airmen” refers to all who were involved in the so-called “Tuskegee Experiment,” the Army Air Corps program to train African-Americans to fly and maintain combat aircraft. The Tuskegee Airmen included pilots, navigators, bombardiers, maintenance and support staff, instructors, and all the personnel who kept the planes in the air.
Captain Platte became one of the first and original members of Tuskegee Airmen. His class scored highest on all of his flight exams, proving to the World that Blacks were mentally competent. They would later become known for their cool maneuvers and the combat pilots escorted bombers in attacks in Italy. They were well trusted in the war for protecting planes.
Platte was not a combat pilot but would become a pilot instructor training 300 future Tuskegee Airmen.
Capt. Platte wanted to be a doctor after his work at Tuskegee, but the draft board told him they would send him to the Army. He then decided to sign up for the newly formed Air Force instead of going to the Army. Once the Air Force learned he was a Tuskegee Airman, they immediately made him take a test to become a pilot. But he was put in the kitchen as a cook instead of a flight cadet. When they later realized the mistake, he became the first black pilot in the newly formed Air Force.
Today he lives with his wife of more than 30 years, Erma Bonner-Platte, in his hometown of Fort Worth, Texas.