PALM SPRINGS, Calif. — Hundreds gathered at the Palm Springs Air Museum to remember one of the last, surviving Tuskegee Airmen, Lt. Col. (ret) Robert “Bob” J. Friend. Fort Irwin’s Garrison Command team was invited and present during ceremonies. Friend died June 21 at the age of 99 from sepsis. Jets roared during take-off and landing, and there was a flyover made up of World War II fighter planes.
Friend was one of the military’s first, black pilots. When he was young, he read magazines about flying in World War I and built working models of the planes he saw. He received his wings as a military pilot and was commissioned as a 2nd lieutenant in the U.S. Army Air Force during WWII in 1942.
Within two years, he flew 142 combat missions and also served in the Vietnam and Korean conflicts for a total of 28 years in the U.S. Air Force.
Friend was the recipient of the Congressional Gold Medal (2007), Distinguished Flying Cross, Presidential Unit Citation, Bronze Star with Flying Cross; 3 Distinguished Service Medals and an Air Medal.
After retiring from the Air Force in 1972, Friend became the Assistant to the President for Fairchild Stratus Companies in Manhattan Beach, California, overseeing design and production of space products for the space shuttle.
He spoke often of his experiences as a pilot with the Tuskegee Airmen “Red Tails.”
Friend lived in Irvine and was last married to Anna Rice for 51 years before she died in 2010. He had eight children, 18 grandchildren, 32 great-grandchildren, and 14 great-great grandchildren.