Robert Friend, One of the Last Tuskegee Airmen, Dies At 99

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Robert Friend flew 142 combat missions in World War II as a member of the famed Tuskegee Airmen. While he fought for his country, protected men and women while fighting off bitter racism, he still remained humble.

“I never felt that I was anything but an American doing a job,” Friend told the Desert Sun in 2017. That humble spirit died on June 21st at a hospital in Long Beach, California. He was 99.

Friend became an expert on missile systems and directed Project Blue Book, the classified Air Force investigation into unidentified flying objects.

He spent 28 years in the Air Force, serving in the Korean and Vietnam wars. He also worked on space launch vehicles and served as a foreign technology program director before retiring as a lieutenant colonel and forming his own aerospace company.

Friend’s daughter, Karen Friend Crumlich, told the Desert Sun newspaper her father died at a hospital in Long Beach, Calif. The cause of death was not disclosed.

“My dad was my hero. He was always there for me and at the end, I wanted to be there for him,” she told the outlet. “He passed with family and dear friends surrounding him with love and affection. He is truly a National Treasure who I will carry in my heart. I promise to keep his legacy alive by telling his story to anyone who wants to hear it.”

Friend was one of the last surviving Tuskegee Airmen, who were the first African American military aviators in World War II. It was widely thought by their white counterparts that Blacks didn’t have the mental capacity to fly an airplane. But the Tuskegee Airmen proved them all wrong. The roughly 1,000 black pilots who were trained in the program flew 15,000 combat sorties, destroyed 260 enemy aircraft and received 150 decorations of the Flying Cross and Legion of Merit, fighting off Nazi’s and inspiring a new generation of pilots back home.

The unit’s success was widely credited with paving the way for the integration of the military after World War II, and in 2007 Col. Friend and his comrades were awarded the Congressional Gold Medal, recognized for their “unique military record that inspired revolutionary reform in the Armed Forces.”

Friend died of a disease caused sepsis.

Sepsis is a potentially life-threatening condition caused by the body’s response to an infection. The body normally releases chemicals into the bloodstream to fight an infection. Sepsis occurs when the body’s response to…

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