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Tuskegee Airman, Kirkland resident William L. Booker dead at 90
William L. Booker, electrical engineer, inventor and a member of the famous World War II Tuskegee Airmen, has died after a long battle with Parkinson’s disease.
Booker passed away at a Kirkland nursing home on Nov. 30. He was 90.
Booker moved to Bremerton in the 1950s to design electrical systems for U.S. Navy aircraft carriers. Before moving to Washington, Booker had earned a bachelor’s of science degree in Electrical Engineering from the University of Denver. His first work out of college was with the U.S. Department of Interior where he helped develop dams and other major public infrastructure projects in Montana and Idaho.
In 1954, Boeing hired Booker to create electrical applications for some of the country’s most vital defense systems that still remain in service today. These included the massive B-52 long-range bomber and the Airborne Warning and Control System, the distinctive looking dish-shaped radar employed atop Navy and Air Force surveillance aircraft.
In 1987, Booker was granted a patent for inventing an electrical contact retainer that was used in Boeing aircraft. He retired in 1988 after 34 years with Boeing.
Working with B-52s was Booker’s second association with military aviation. After graduating from high school in Great Bend, Kansas in 1941, Booker enlisted in the Army and completed basic training in Virginia. Illustrating an aptitude for rigorous academics, Booker was selected for specialized aerial gunnery and airplane mechanics education at bases in Texas, Colorado, Michigan and Indiana.
Prior to World War II, the military denied African American enlisted men and officers the chance to serve as pilots or on flight crews. After significant public pressure, the Army created segregated fighter and bomber squadrons later known as the Tuskegee Airmen.
Booker served as a Navigator and Flight Engineer on the B-24 and B-25 bombers with the 477th Bomber Squadron based at Godman Field, Ky. The unit was led by then-Col. Benjamin O. Davis, Jr., a fighter pilot who eventually became the first general officer in the United States Air Force. In addition to flying with Davis, Booker also flew with Col. Daniel “Chappie” James, another famous pilot who would also become an Air Force general. World War II ended before the 477th could be deployed for combat.
The only other surviving local Tuskegee Airman is believed to be Col. Edward Drummond of Lakewood.
Seattle area community service
After retiring from Boeing in 1988, Booker continued to lead an active life. In addition to spending time with his grandchildren, he bred Thoroughbred horses that raced at Renton’s former Longacres Race Track.
He was also an active member of Mt. Zion Baptist Church in Seattle, Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity and coached golf at Franklin High School.
Booker maintained his passion for aviation as well, serving as president of the Sam Bruce Chapter of the Tuskegee Airmen, Inc. In this role he spoke to students throughout Washington and Oregon about his experience with the Tuskegee Airmen and the importance of education.
He often concluded his remarks with the following admonition:
“Take advantage of the many opportunities you now have, those that my generation could not have foreseen, even in our wildest dreams. Remember that there are those of us who struggled to make this a reality for you, because we cared, not only for ourselves, but for you.”
Survivors and memorial service
Booker is survived by his wife of 45 years, Dolores Dysart Booker; sons Clifton Mitchell and Larry Booker; daughters Paula Hatcher, Leslyn Jones-Petitt; grandsons Jason Hatcher, James Hatcher, Marcus Petitt, Brandon Petitt, William Poole and Julian Mitchell; granddaughter Nicole Hatcher; sister Ruth Marie Bibbs.
A memorial service for Booker will begin at 11 a.m. at Mt. Zion Baptist Church, 1634 19th Ave. in Seattle.
In lieu of flowers, please send donations to Tuskegee Airmen, Inc., Sam Bruce Chapter 11044 Durland Ave. N. in Seattle.
Donations can also be made online and additional information on the history of the Tuskegee Airmen can be found at the group’s website: sambrucetai.org