FORT WORTH, Texas - Fort Worth’s last surviving member of the legendary Tuskegee Airmen has died.
Robert T. McDaniel was a member of the elite, all-black military crew that fought during World War II.
McDaniel died this week at the age of 96. He impacted lives not only in the air, but in local classrooms for the past several decades.
McDaniel was valedictorian of his class at I.M. Terrell High in 1940. That was three years before he was drafted and eventually took his place in aviation history.
Al Henderson is president of the DFW chapter for the Tuskegee Airmen Association.
"I felt privileged to escort them around," he said.
Henderson is somber, but proud as some priceless memorabilia from McDaniel and fellow Tuskegee Airman Claude Platte is bound for the Smithsonian Institute in Washington D.C.
"It’s sad, but part of life at the same time. We know that now we have to step up and carry the torch for them to get the word out," Henderson said.
The 2012 movie “Red Tails” chronicled the airmen who broke through racial barriers to become the first African American fighter pilots.
"We went out there as a chapter, as a group, to see the movie,” Henderson said.
[REPORTER: Did they like it? Did they think the film was well done?] “It was Hollywood! But the main gist of the movie they felt like was received," Henderson replied.
McDaniel, also an educator with several academic degrees, retired as principal from Morningside Elementary after 37 years with Fort Worth ISD. Years later, some students said they never knew of his aviator past.
"You never told us you were a Tuskegee Airman. He'd say you never asked. But he was so modest about that,” Henderson added. "Very humble spirit. That was something they just didn't go around and brag about.”
Dr. McDaniel did get to celebrate his 96th birthday last month.
"He'd been put into a rehab and we had this surprise birthday party for him. He was quite pleased about it and shocked too," said Erma Platte, widow of Claude Platte.
"They've just passed the torch on, saying it’s your guys’ turn. We've run our race, now you have to make sure the information of history is learned for the next generation,” Henderson said.
McDaniel's funeral will be held on March 29, at Shiloh Missionary Baptist Church in Fort Worth.