Retired Capt. Claude R. Platte, a former Tuskegee Airman, signs a wall at the 323rd Training Squadron dedicated to the Tuskegee Airmen as his great nephew Airman Christopher Platte, 331st Training Squadron, looks on. Capt. Platte was the first African-American officer to be trained and commissioned in the Air Force pilot training program. (U.S. Air Force photo/Alan Boedeker)
LACKLAND AIR FORCE BASE, Texas —
When Airman Christopher Platte decided to join the Air Force last year, he didn't know he would be following in famous footsteps.
Graduation from basic military training Dec. 11 capped a whirlwind two days for Airman Platte. One of the family members in attendance was his great uncle, retired Capt. Claude Platte, a famed Tuskegee Airman.
BMT graduation was the first time Airman Platte could remember meeting his famous relative. Captain Platte broke down racial and educational barriers by becoming the first African American officer to be trained and commissioned in the newly reopened Air Force pilot training program at Randolph Air Force Base in the 1940s.
"Friday (Dec. 11) was the first time we've met (since I was a baby)," said Airman Platte. "The first time I talked to him was last November (2008). I didn't know he was a Tuskegee Airman until I made the decision to join the Air Force.
"I talked to my mother about (joining the Air Force) and she said, 'Oh, by the way, you have a great uncle who is a Tuskegee Airman.' I had no idea," he added. "I think that it's going to be a great motivation for me to take it a step higher now that I know where I come from. Even if I decide not to be a pilot, it's motivation to be the best I can be in the Air Force."
Airman Platte's great uncle, who served 18 years in the Air Force, went on to train more than 400 African American Airmen to fly solo and pilot specialized military aircraft. Captain Platte's brother, Christopher Platte's grandfather, was also a Tuskegee Airman.
Retired from Bell Helicopter and living in North Texas, Captain Platte and other Tuskegee Airmen travel the country telling their story.
A modest man who stays involved in community service, Captain Platte says he wasn't out to break down barriers; he only wanted to fly.
"It (flying) was something I wanted to do," he said. "It was just like getting a toy. I didn't think about the segregation part of it. I wasn't interfered with so I really enjoyed it."
Captain Platte's return to Lackland for his great nephew's BMT graduation was the first time he had been back since his own BMT nearly 70 years ago.
And as Airman Platte begins his military career - he's entering as a Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape specialist - he, too, started down a different trail.
After all, how many Airmen begin their career with an Eagle Scout Court of Honor the day before BMT graduation?
"It was an interesting experience; it was not a traditional court of honor," he said about the Dec. 10 ceremony.
Col. William H. Mott V, 37th Training Wing commander, presided over the event and presented Airman Platte with his Eagle Scout award.
The two days of special activities were enough to do a mother proud.
"I don't think there are words to describe how proud I am," said his mother, Marilyn Wright. "He really didn't have any idea the legacy he was stepping into. Since he was six, he's been saying, 'I want to fly planes; I want to be in the air!'
"Honestly, I tried to discourage him, but it's in his heart to be an Airman," she said. "Now he's fulfilling a dream."
And along the way, trying to fill some pretty big shoes.