Tuskegee Airman who flew 142 WWII combat missions dies at 99

Lt. Col. Robert Friend (L) - 94 and Airman Sgt. Walter Crenshaw -104 who are among a handful of surviving Tuskegee Airmen are reunited after Lt. Col. Friend rode with more than 200 injured military veterans in the 'UnitedHealthcare Ride 2 Recovery California Challenge' to Los Angeles on October 11, 2014. The Ride 2 Recovery California Challenge is a seven-day, 465-mile bicycle ride along the California coast from the San Francisco Bay area to Los Angeles. The Tuskegee Airman were a group of African-American fighter and bomber pilots who flew during the Second World War. AFP PHOTO/Mark RALSTON (Photo credit should read MARK RALSTON/AFP/Getty Images)

LONG BEACH, California — 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.

Friend’s daughter, Karen Friend Crumlich, told The Desert Sun her father died Friday at a Southern California hospital.

Born in South Carolina on 1920’s leap day, Friend flew 142 combat missions in World War II 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 as a lieutenant colonel and forming his own aerospace company.

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