LONG BEACH, Calif. — Lt. Col. Robert Friend, one of the last original members of the famed all-black Tuskegee Airmen in World War II, has died at the age of 99.
Friend’s daughter, Karen Friend Crumlich, told The Desert Sun her father died Friday at a Southern California hospital.
His plane went down during an aerial reconnaissance mission in Europe on Dec. 23, 1944.
Born in South Carolina on 1920′s leap day, Friend flew 142 combat missions in World War II, piloting P-47 and P-51 fighter aircraft, as part of the elite group of fighter pilots trained at Alabama’s Tuskegee Institute. The program was created after the NAACP began challenging policies barring black people from flying military aircraft.
Friend’s 28-year Air Force career included service in the Korean and Vietnam wars. He also worked on space launch vehicles and served as foreign technology program director before retiring and forming his own aerospace company.
Col. Charles McGee — an original Tuskegee Airman, veteran of three wars, and aviation legend — still clearly remembers the day he shot down a German Luftwaffe fighter.