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December 11, 2013

Lee Hayes, 91


Lee Hayes of Amagansett, one of the few remaining members of the legendary Tuskegee Airmen, died on December 4 at the age of 91.

The Airmen, so-named because they were trained in Alabama, were an elite-group of African-American bomber pilots aged 19 through 25.

Their exploits were the subject of two movies, The Tuskegee Airman starring Laurence Fishburne in 1995 and Red Tails, produced by George Lucas, which was released in 2012.

The U.S. Army Air Corps was pressured by Civil Rights activists to allow black men to train as pilots. According to its website Tuskegee University was awarded the U.S. Army Air Corps contract to help train America's first black military airmen because it had an outstanding civilian pilot training program. In all, 1000 black pilots were trained at the college.

The documentary tells the story of how blacks were excluded from the military based on the color of their skin. The film goes on to show the airmen's training at Tuskegee, where a separate air base was built to keep the races apart. Their combat activity, which began in Italy and North Africa, was also highlighted in the film.

"The social significance for Tuskegee is very important to understand," Doctor Roscoe Brown Junior told The Independent in an interview last year. Brown flew in the same unit as Hayes.

A funeral service was held for Hayes Monday at the Calvary Baptist Church in East Hampton. He was buried at Calverton National Ceremony after the service.

Hayes is survived by his son, Craig, his daughter, Karlys Johnson, grandchildren Barry Johnson and Crystal Hayes as well as two great-grandchildren.

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