Humphrey C. Patton Jr., one of the last Long Islanders among the Tuskegee Airmen who ended the military's ban on black pilots, died Monday at his Lawrenceville, Ga., home. Patton, who lived in Hempstead until 2010, was 93.
A Detroit native, Patton graduated with a zoology degree from Howard University in 1941 -- the year the Army began organizing a groundbreaking program to train black pilots at Tuskegee, Ala.
He eventually volunteered, completed flight school in April 1945, and was assigned to the 99th Fighter Squadron, an all-black unit that had seen action in Europe. But Germany surrendered a month later, and he never flew in combat. He left active duty in 1946.
Although the Tuskegee pilots' contributions were initially ignored, historians credit their success -- they shot down 112 enemy planes during World War II -- with speeding the end of segregation in the military. The Tuskegee Airmen received the Congressional Gold Medal in 2007 and were featured in the recent movie "Red Tails."
"We have had high visibility recently because of the movie," said Roscoe Brown, a Tuskegee pilot who has a home in Sag Harbor. "It's just too bad there are less of us around to enjoy it."
In 1953, Patton married Rose DeMouy, whom he had met years earlier in Washington, D.C.
None of the Tuskegee fliers could get hired as airline pilots, but Patton found a job as a flight controller with what is now known as the Federal Aviation Administration. He moved to Hempstead and worked at what now are Kennedy and Long Island MacArthur airports.
He left the FAA in the mid-1960s to spend more time with his children. He worked for New York State, first with the Labor Department in Hempstead, then as an advocate with the state's Department of Veterans Affairs, before retiring around 1990. He also served in the Air Force Reserve, holding the rank of major when he retired in 1979.
His son, W. Waverly Patton of Teaneck, N.J., described Patton as an organized and meticulous man who often took his children up for hobby flights in single-propeller planes and mentored youngsters through the Civil Air Patrol. A daughter, Lori Patton of Peachtree City, Ga., eventually earned a pilot's license of her own.
In addition to his son and daughter, Patton is survived by his wife, Rose; and two daughters, Marjul Francis of Lawrenceville, and Pamela Patton of Roosevelt. Plans for a service and burial at Arlington National Cemetery are pending.