Lt. Col. (retired) Robert Friend

Lt. Col. (retired) Robert Friend, one of the famed “Tuskegee Airmen” of World War II, will speak at the Sunland Tujunga Branch Library on March 11.

Friend, 96, will talk about and present a video presentation on the history of the aerial unit, and also be available afterward for questions and photos.

The Tuskegee Airmen were part of an Army Air Corps unit trained to fly and maintain combat aircraft. They included pilots, radio operators, navigators, bombardiers, aircraft maintenance, support staff, instructors, and all the personnel — both military and civilian — who kept the planes in the air.

The Tuskegee Airmen flew more than 1,200 missions for the 99th, 100th, 301st, and 302nd Fighter Squadrons under the Twelfth Air Force.

Most of the pilots, like Friend, were African American.

Friend was born in Columbia, South Carolina on February 28, 1920.  In 1939, he became a student at Lincoln University in Pennsylvania, where he earned a private pilot certificate in the Civilian Pilot Training Program.  In 1942, Mr. Friend joined the Air Force and was sent to Tuskegee Institute for pilot training.

After receiving his wings as an Air Force pilot, Friend was promoted to a Lieutenant and at that time was assigned to the 332nd Fighter Group as a pilot under Col. B.O. Davis, Jr.  He was then sent to Schlfridge Air Force Base in Michigan for flight tactical aircraft transition before his combat tour.  In 1943, Lieutenant Friend reported to the European Theatre of War as a member of Tuskegee Airmen’s Distinguished 322nd Group, which was a Fighter Pilot Organization.

As a pilot of the P47 and P51 single engine planes, Lieutenant Friend flew as the wingman for the Commander of the group, Col. B.O. Davis.  Lt. Col. Friend also served as Combat Operations Officer at the Squadron and Group levels.

Friend resides in Irvine California.  He has seven children and numerous grand, great-grand, and great-great grandchildren.

— Mike Terry