SARATOGA SPRINGS -- A community of mourners gathered inside the Saratoga Springs United Methodist Church on Tuesday to celebrate the life of Clarence Dart.
The Tuskegee Airman, whom nearly everyone called, simply "Dart," passed away at the age of 91 on Friday.
History will remember Dart as a hero who flew 95 missions during World War II, his coffin draped in the country's stars and stripes at the Greenridge Cemetery where he was buried with military honors.
The echo of a rifle volley and the solemn bugler's call of taps hung in the air. A North American T-6 trainer aircraft performed a fly-over and creased the sky.
"Everyone called him ‘Dart.' When I was growing up, my mom called him ‘Dart,' so my mom will remember him as ‘Dart,' " said the man's son, Warren, one of three Dart children who spoke at the funeral.
"Me, I'll remember him as Dad," he said, recalling the equipment checklist he and his father would dutifully rehearse while taking recreational flights together.
The recited list took on special significance inside the church on this day.
"Climb to selected altitude," he said, choking up. "Go home."
Kathy Dart and Gwen Steans celebrated their father in song, their hymns rising to the vaulted church ceiling as a lifetime of memories scrolled across the screen of a video monitor. The images depicted their dad at work and at play, a man committed to his family and to his love of flying.
More than 200 people filled the church where local musician Garland Nelson struck the delicate keys of the grand piano, appropriately performing "I Believe I Can Fly" and "Wind Beneath My Wings."
Dart went to flight training at the Tuskegee Army Air Field in Alabama in 1942. He was one of about 1,000 fighter pilots who later became known as Tuskegee Airmen. The men were trained as a segregated unit and forbidden to practice alongside their white counterparts. In 2007, he and his fellow airmen received Congressional Gold Medals - the most prestigious Congress has to offer - for their service in World War II and for the battles they continued to fight against racism when they returned home.
"He was a trustworthy man. A soft-spoken man, but he spoke with great reverence," said Bill Wicks, a longtime family friend and a member of American Legion Post 490 in Stillwater, who spoke during the church service.
At the cemetery a short while later, Warren Dart tilted his head toward the sky as the World War II-era aircraft flew overhead in honor of his humble father.
He watched it circle, then disappear over the horizon.
‘He would probably say he wasn't deserving of all this," Warren Dart said. "He was just that kind of man."