William E. Broadwater, a member of the Tuskegee Airmen, a group of black pilots and support personnel who overcame racial obstacles to serve their country in World War II, died Sept. 22 at a hospital in Washington. He was 89.
The cause was a heart ailment, his family said.
Mr. Broadwater, who lived in Upper Marlboro, Md., was among several former Tuskegee personnel who banded together in the early 1970s to start Tuskegee Airmen Inc., and Mr. Broadwater was East Coast chapter president and historian.
He said his “most important mission” was to make sure the contributions of his fellow Tuskegee veterans did not pass into obscurity.
His death leaves a void in the rapidly dwindling ranks of the Tuskegee Airmen — pilots, bombardiers, mechanics, instructors and other support personnel who made history participating in a training program for black pilots in Tuskegee, Ala. Mr. Broadwater trained as a pilot, but the war ended before he could go overseas.
After his military discharge in the late 1940s, Mr. Broadwater was working at the Census Bureau when his chances of becoming a professional civilian aviator were dashed.
“He took a [written] test for one of the major airlines, and he got the highest grade on the test,” his son, William Broadwater Jr., said. “He never got any kind of call in response, so he contacted the airline. They said there was a problem, so they had him take the test again. That time, he got the second-highest grade.”
A company representative visited Mr. Broadwater at home.
“He said the company could never hire a black pilot because . . . no one would fly if they knew there was a black pilot,” Mr. Broadwater’s son said. “My dad told him, half jokingly, that they would never have to know because he would just stay in the cockpit. The guy from the airline didn’t think that was funny.”
Instead, Mr. Broadwater transferred to what became the Federal Aviation Administration, where he started as an air-traffic controller and rose through the ranks to serve as a senior administrator before retiring in 1980. Afterward, he started an aviation consulting firm.
William Ephraim Broadwater was born in Bryn Mawr, Pa., on Jan. 25, 1926. His family lived on campus at Haverford College while his father worked as a caretaker for a college professor. After his mother fell seriously ill, he and his siblings were split among various homes.
His wife of 47 years, the former Anita Levy, died in 1995. Survivors include two children, Janis Pinkston and William E. Broadwater Jr., both of Philadelphia; a sister; and two grandchildren.
At the time of his death, Mr. Broadwater was working on a memoir.
“We knew we were as smart as anybody else, as capable as anybody else and deserved to be treated the same as anybody else,” Mr. Broadwater once said.