MORTON, Pa. (CBS) -- A hometown hero was remembered for his legacy as one of the original Tuskegee Airmen. William E. Rice died last Sunday, Nov. 27, and his funeral service was held Tuesday in Morton.
His casket was draped in the American flag. A man honored for his service to this country.
The life and legacy of Tuskegee Airman William Elwood Rice was remembered at First Baptist Church of Morton on Tuesday.
"We're recognizing a national hero in American history," the pastor said.
Rice was affectionately known to family and friends as Woody. His daughter, Janice Robinson, says her father shared stories of his childhood in Delaware County and how he'd always dreamed of one day becoming a pilot.
"He would just look up in the sky and would see National Guard planes flying. And he said from that point on he said he always wanted to learn how to fly," Robinson said.
He fulfilled his dream in 1944 when he earned his wings as a Tuskegee Airman. They were the first African American aviators in the United States Armed Forces.
Over his two years of service, Rice flew 34 combat missions. On one of those missions, he helped escort B-17 bombers over 1,600 miles into Germany and back shooting down three jets.
Dr. Eugene Richardson is among the last surviving pilots.
"Up until then the military was segregated by race," Richardson said. "We proved to the world that people of color can do anything and can be a part of the progress of the country."
Loved ones fondly remembered Rice as a hometown hero with a quiet, sweet spirit.
"He was just unflappable. I would say. He was just a strong family man. He was a hero but to us he was dad," Robinson said.
Rice died at his home on Nov. 27 just a week before he would have celebrated his 99th birthday.
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