Robert Friend, one of the last of the Tuskegee Airman, the famous WWII squadron of African-American fighter pilots, passed away on Friday at the age of 99, according to a report in the Desert Sun.
Karen Friend Crumlich, Friend’s daughter, told the Desert Sun that he died surrounded by his loved ones.
“He is truly a National Treasure who I will carry in my heart,” she is quoted as saying. “I promise to keep his legacy alive by telling his story to anyone who wants to hear it.”
The Tuskegee airman were formed in 1941, following pressure from civil rights groups and African-American press outlets, according to Tuskegee Airman, Inc. Before 1940, African-Americans were not allowed to fly in the U.S. military. The name Tuskegee Airmen refers to the base in Tuskegee, Alabama, where the fighters and support staff were trained.
A South Carolina native, ccording to the Desert Sun, “Friend was an experienced pilot when he joined the Tuskegee ‘Red Tails’ as they were called, because their aircraft tails were painted red. He served as wingman for the commander of the Tuskegees, Benjamin O. Davis, who later became the first African American general in the U.S. Air Force.”
Friend would go on to fly 142 combat missions for the United States in a military career that would span nearly 30 years, from WWII through the Vietnam War.
He maintained a strong interest in aviation even after he left the military, as according to the Sun, he went on to found an aerospace company.
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COLONEL ROBERT FRIEND FEBRUARY 29, 1920 – JUNE 21, 2019 Today we lost our hero Tuskegee Airman Colonel Robert Friend. There is one quote that best embodies his spirit… "THE GIANT IN FRONT OF YOU IS NEVER BIGGER THAN GOD – WHO LIVES WITHIN YOU" Looking at his life it would have been easy for him to succumb to the prejudice he faced early on or the horrors of war, and emerge a cynical human being. Bob has said that he persevered in adversity to prove he could do it – for himself. The balance of his life has been… a beacon of positive energy and an example of putting that energy back out to those around him. We need to remember Bob as a teacher, a man who through his subtle actions, not loud overbearing gestures, made us all better people. In the long view of our lives, how many of us can say that about our actions? We should… it is what Bob would expect us to do. So as we all struggle with the loss of this wonderful man, we must go back to his teachings – look to the positive. To God’s love that lives within us… If we can all do that, Bob Friend and what he means in this World will live on. Few of us will be remembered beyond the people who love us. In Bob’s case he will surely be immortal due to the amount of love and joy he brought to so many – WE WILL REMEMBER and his teachings will live on… #TuskegeeAirmen #RedTails #332ndFighterGroup #PSAirMuseum #PalmSpringsAirMuseum #ColRobertFriend #AmericanHero
And Friend’s legacy will still soar even after his passing. According to the Sun, the Palm Springs Air Museum has a P-51 Mustang named “Bunny” with the same markings that and numbers as the plane Friend flew during WWII.
Every year the plane is flown at the Reno National Air Races, and the museum director Fred Bell told the Sun that it will fly again this year with a special tribute logo in Friend’s honor.
World War II pilot Robert Friend, one of the last original members of the famed all-black Tuskegee Airmen, has died at the age of 99.
Thank you for your bravery and service Sir, our condolences to your family and friends. RIP???❤