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Robert T. McDaniel, Fort Worth’s last member of elite black Tuskegee Airmen dies at 96

Tuskegee Airman Dr. Robert T. McDaniel, then 88, poses with Col. Kurt Gallegos, 301st Operations Group commander, during a celebration of the opening of "Red Tails." The movie is based on the first all-black squadron of bombers, pilots and maintainers in the Armed Forces during World War II. Gallegos has served in three of the four units associated with the Tuskegee Airmen. (Senior Airman Martha Whipple/U.S. Air Force)

Fort Worth’s last surviving member of the Tuskegee Airmen died Tuesday at the age of 96.

Robert T. McDaniel was one of the elite black airmen who flew combat aircraft in World War II at a time when the military was segregated.

McDaniel, along with about 330 other surviving Tuskegee Airmen, were invited to Barack Obama’s inauguration in 2009. The group was also commemorated in the George Lucas movie “Red Tails” in 2012.

“He is the last of the Mohicans if you will,” said Sarah Walker, president of Tarrant County Black Historical and Genealogical Society.

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Walker said McDaniel was one of her teachers at I.M. Terrell Elementary School.

McDaniel joined the war at a time when black men were not welcomed into service. At the first screening of “Red Tails,” McDaniel spoke at the reception about the squadron he served in 75 years ago.

“There were no blacks at all in the Air Corps. None. Didn’t want them there. They said, ‘They don’t have the dexterity to work these planes,'” he said at the screening in 2012.

McDaniel was valedictorian and president of his 1940 class at I.M. Terrell High School and was drafted in 1943. He was one of the 922 pilots trained in Tuskegee, Alabama, between 1941 and 1946.

“It created a sense of pride in the community,” Walker said. “It created a sense of a young man giving back, giving his life really, to all of America.”

In 2007 while Obama served Illinois in the U.S. Senate, he thanked the airmen when the group received the Congressional Gold Medal.

“My career in public service was made possible by the path heroes like the Tuskegee Airmen trail-blazed,” Obama said in a statement at the time, according to the New York Times.

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However, Walker said McDaniel never bragged about his service and few people even knew he was a Tuskegee airman until the group’s story was shared in an exhibit at the Lenora Rolla Heritage Center Museum in 2013.

“They weren’t seeking pride. It was just a thing they knew they had to do,” Walker said about the airmen.

A wake will be held March 27 at Saint Peter Presbyterian in Fort Worth from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. Funeral services, handled by Baker Funeral Home, will be on March 28 at 11 a.m. at Shiloh Missionary Baptist Church in Fort Worth.

As of September 2018, the Tuskegee Airmen society estimated 13 of the 355 single engine pilots who served in the Mediterranean theater operation during WWII were still alive.

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© 2019 Fort Worth Star-Telegram

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.