Les Williams, a member of the famed Tuskegee Airmen during World War II, died Tuesday in his Patterson home, daughter Penny Williams said.
Williams, 95, rose to the rank of captain among the first black aviators in American military history. He flew B-25s, though his unit did not see combat action during the war. He also became an accomplished tap dancer who ran a dance studio in San Mateo for 30 years and counted NFL Hall of Famer Lynn Swann among his dance students.
At age 50, he graduated from Stanford Law School and became an attorney. As a youngster, he spent his summers visiting relatives in Southern California, where he became friends with Jackie Robinson, who went on to break major league baseball’s color barrier in 1947. And Williams’ cousin, Archie Williams, won the 400-meter run in the 1936 Olympics in Berlin, the same Games in which black American athletes led by Jesse Owens, who won four golds, left German dictator Adolf Hitler in a snit and refused to shake their hands.
Throughout his life, he battled prejudice including in the military and then after the war, when he was unable to find work as a commercial airline pilot.
His family moved to Patterson in 2014. According to daughter Penny, he recently was under home hospice care and died there “surrounded by family and friends,” she wrote in an email.
Williams was the subject of a Feb. 8 column by The Modesto Bee’s Jeff Jardine.
Funeral services are pending.