William M. Cousins, 90, Tuskegee airman

William M. Cousins during World War II. He was discharged with the rank of captain.
William M. Cousins during World War II. He was discharged with the rank of captain.
Posted: May 22, 2014

William M. Cousins, 90, of Philadelphia, a Tuskegee Airman during World War II who went on to work for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, died Thursday, May 15, of pneumonia at Chestnut Hill Hospital.

Mr. Cousins was drafted into the Army and lobbied hard for the chance to become an aviator. He was sent to Biloxi, Miss., then to Tuskegee, Ala., where he spent July 30 to Sept. 8, 1944, in advanced training as a single-engine aircraft pilot.

He had one close call during the session.

"We were in the final phase of advanced training, and it was a high-altitude mission to get the [plane] to its maximum height in a group. Suddenly my windscreen was coated with oil, and I had to make an emergency landing on the field," he recalled in an online account. He landed safely.

Upon receiving his wings, he became a second lieutenant and one of the now-famous Tuskegee Airmen.

He flew to Casablanca, then on to Naples, and finally inland to Ramitelli, to join the 100th Fighter Squadron, 332d Fighter Group.

While stationed in Italy, he flew a P-51 Mustang, completing more than a dozen missions.

On Oct. 1, 1945, Mr. Cousins, by then a first lieutenant, sailed from Naples and returned home. He was honorably discharged on Dec. 25, 1946, with the rank of captain.

Born in Goochland, Va., Mr. Cousins moved to Philadelphia with his family at age 6. He graduated in 1941 from Central High School.

Ten years later, Mr. Cousins graduated from Temple University with a bachelor's degree in sociology. He went to work for the Commission on Human Relations in Philadelphia. After the fair housing law passed, he worked in Harrisburg for the State Commission on Human Relations and then returned to Philadelphia to work as a supervisor for HUD for the rest of his career. He retired in 1983.

Mr. Cousins met Laura Cheatham while at Temple University. They married in 1948 and settled in Mt. Airy to raise two children. She died in 2012.

Mr. Cousins enjoyed fishing, gardening, and the holiday season.

"At our Christmas gatherings, he always insisted on being Santa Claus, and giving out the presents to the children," his family said.

Surviving are son Philip; daughter Leslie; a granddaughter; a great-granddaughter; a sister; his friend Wiladine Bain; and nieces and nephews.

A memorial service will be held at 10 a.m. Wednesday, May 21, at St. Luke's Episcopal Church, 5421 Germantown Ave. Burial is private.

Donations may be made to the Tuskegee Airmen Scholarship Foundation, Box 83395, Los Angeles, Calif. 90045.


bcook@phillynews.com

610-313-8102

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