Thursday, 23 March 2023 13:04

Tuskegee Airman: Local Veteran Posthumously Honored

Clarence Dart (L) pictured with fellow Tuskegee Airmen (L-R from Dart: Elwood Driver, Herbert Hus-ton, Elva Temple) discussing how Elwood had just shot down an ME 109. May 1944. Photo provided. Clarence Dart (L) pictured with fellow Tuskegee Airmen (L-R from Dart: Elwood Driver, Herbert Hus-ton, Elva Temple) discussing how Elwood had just shot down an ME 109. May 1944. Photo provided.

BALLSTON SPA — This week, The Saratoga County Board of Supervisors and the Saratoga County Veterans Service Agency held its monthly Honor Deceased Veterans Program by honoring longtime Saratoga Springs resident and Tuskegee Airman Clarence Dart. 

Dart flew 95 missions overseas during World War II. Twice, he survived being shot down by the enemy. He grew up during the Great Depression. As a child, his clothing came from the Salvation Army. Much of his food was grown in the family garden in Elmira. He built model airplanes as a child and had a yearning to fly.

The day after his 21st birthday, on Dec. 7, 1941, Dart was singing in his church choir when he heard about the attack on Pearl Harbor. The young man knew what he wanted to do. The following year, he was accepted into flight training at the Tuskegee Army Air Field, joining other young men who had enlisted to become America’s first black military airmen. 

Dart served as a member of the 332nd Fighter Group and was assigned to the 99th Fighter Squadron in the 12th Air Force in North Africa. He was one of about 1,000 fighter pilots who painted the tails of their airplanes red, earning the nickname, “Red Tails.” They were trained as a segregated unit and forbidden to practice alongside their white counterparts. 

Dart later flew P-51s escorting 15th Air Force bombers and was discharged from active duty at the rank of Captain in 1947.  He went on to serve in the NY Air National Guard and retired at the rank of Lt. Colonel.

For his service Dart received two Purple Hearts for injuries sustained during air combat, the Air Medal, Distinguished Flying Cross with 4 Oak Leaf Clusters, the WWII Victory Medal, and the American Defense Medal, the NYS Conspicuous Service Cross, and the NYS Conspicuous Service Star.

While he fought for President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s four freedoms, when Dart returned home from the war there was no heroic welcome, and no job that was available to him to fulfill his dream of being a commercial airplane pilot.

The accomplishments of the Tuskegee Airmen are credited with influencing President Harry Truman to officially desegregate the U.S. military in 1948. It was the same year Dart relocated to Saratoga Springs. He married his wife, Mildred, in June 1950 and the couple raised their family of seven daughters and two sons in the Spa City. 

After the war, Dart worked for General Electric Co. until his retirement in 1987, after which he began visiting schools and talking to students about his experiences in the war, explaining to them the importance of getting an education as a way of bettering themselves and creating opportunities. It was only after Dart began to speak about his wartime experiences at the request of neighborhood schools that his own children began to truly understand some of their father’s experiences. 

It took more than 60 years for recognition to come for the humble man from Elmira. In 2007, Dart was awarded a Congressional Gold Medal, alongside other Tuskegee Airmen in the Capitol Rotunda, and in 2011 was honored locally at the Wesley Community senior housing facility where he resided at the time. Dart died in 2012. He was 91 and was buried with military honors at the family plot at Greenridge Cemetery on Lincoln Avenue.

Established in 1999 by the Saratoga County Board of Supervisors, the Honor Deceased Veterans Program provides a way for county leadership and residents to show gratitude for the service of veterans past and present. The ceremony is dedicated to a different Saratoga County veteran each month.  To date, more than 300 Saratoga County Veterans have been honored.

To learn more about Clarence Dart, in his own words, go online to YouTube and search: Clarence W. Dart

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