other notable deaths

other notable deaths

May 04, 2007

STEWART CLAH, 87 Navajo code talker

Stewart Clah, a Navajo code talker who helped confound the Japanese during World War II and was awarded a Congressional Silver Medal, died Sunday in his sleep at his home in Tse' Daa' Kaan, an agricultural community in northwestern New Mexico, his family said.

The code talkers were an elite group of Navajo Marines who transmitted radio messages during the war in a coded version of their native language. The codes were never cracked by enemy forces; the talkers' existence was a military secret for decades after the war ended.

Twenty-nine original Navajo code talkers - the first group to graduate from training - were presented with the Congressional Gold Medal by President Bush in 2001. Others among the more than 300 Navajos who qualified as code talkers received the Congressional Silver Medal.

Mr. Clah's family members said he told them little about his war days but enjoyed swapping tales with fellow code talkers and often wore a code talker baseball cap reading: "I served with pride."

Mr. Clah served on Midway, Saipan, Guam and Guadalcanal. In August 1945, he was stationed in Nagasaki, Japan, and spent the next four months occupying the empty, bombed-out city.

Pronounced "say da kahn," Mr. Clah's hometown used to be called Hogback, but the name was changed recently. The Navajo name means "rock grounded into the water," a reference to a gap created by the San Juan River.

LOUIS G. HILL JR., 90 Tuskegee airman

Louis G. Hill Jr., one of the Tuskegee Airmen, the nation's first black military pilots, died April 25 in Sarasota, Fla., of complications from a stroke, said his wife, Vilma.

He joined the Army in September 1941, three months before the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. He later joined the Army Air Forces program for black pilots in Tuskegee, Ala., and earned his wings in 1944, his wife said.

She said her husband was a B-25 bomber pilot and flight leader, but World War II ended before his unit deployed.

At the time he joined the military, some white officers and enlisted men refused to salute the black officers, turning their heads instead, Vilma Hill said.

While he was attending officer candidate school at Camp Lee, Va., Louis Hill and 11 other black students decided not to sit together during meals as assigned. Instead, they took seats with white students in an attempt to integrate the hall, Vilma Hill said.

After the war, her husband taught high school English, chemistry and physics and lectured about his experience as a Tuskegee Airman, she said.

STANLEY MCDONALD JR., 62 Father of Broadway star

Stanley McDonald Jr., father of Broadway star Audra McDonald, was killed when the experimental plane he was flying crashed north of Sacramento.

He was pronounced dead at the scene Sunday, the Yuba County Sheriff's Department said. Mr. McDonald retired in 2005 as assistant superintendent of human resources for the Fresno Unified School District, where he had worked for 33 years.

His wife, Vicki, said he had taken the helicopter-like craft for repairs to Olivehurst, about 40 miles north of Sacramento.

She said he was experienced as a helicopter and fixed-wing pilot and had been logging his training hours in the experimental craft when it crashed.

Witnesses said the aircraft seemed to be having mechanical trouble and clipped trees before the wreck.

Audra McDonald, a four-time Tony winner, is appearing on Broadway in a revival of 110 in the Shade.

ZOLA TAYLOR, 69 Platters singer

Zola Taylor, who broke gender barriers in the 1950s as a member of the Platters, harmonizing with her male colleagues on hits including "The Great Pretender," died Monday in Los Angeles.

She had been bedridden after several strokes and died at Parkview Community Hospital in Riverside County of complications from pneumonia.

Founding Platters member Herb Reed said he spotted Ms. Taylor, the sister of Cornell Gunter of the Coasters, rehearsing with a girl group in 1955 and knew immediately that she had the charisma and vocal skills that the rhythm and blues group needed.

The all-male group had just signed with Mercury after its single "Only You" topped the charts, and its manager thought it needed a female voice to soften its sound.

"The Great Pretender" raced to the No. 1 spot on the R&B and pop music charts in the United States and Europe, according to The Encyclopedia of Pop, Rock and Soul by Irwin Stambler.

The Platters' success began to fizzle after 1959, when four members were arrested in a Cincinnati hotel and accused of using drugs and soliciting prostitutes.

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