Robert Friend, one of the last original Tuskegee Airmen, dead at 99

Credit: 2016 Getty Images

Credit: 2016 Getty Images

One of the last original Tuskegee Airmen has died.

Retired Lt. Col. Robert "Bob" Friend died Friday at a hospital in Long Beach, California, his daughter, Kaen Friend Crumlich, told the Palm Springs Desert Sun. He was 99 and died of sepsis, KCAL reported.

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"My dad was my hero. He was always there for me and at the end, I wanted to be there for him," Crumlich told The Desert Sun. "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, a group of fighter pilots trained at Alabama’s Tuskegee Institute, now Tuskegee University, in a program created after the NAACP led advocacy efforts for African Americans to enlist and train as U.S. military pilots.

The Associated Press reported that Friend flew 142 combat missions in World War II. In his 28-year military career, he also served in the Korean and Vietnam wars and worked on space launch vehicles and served as a foreign technology program director. After retiring from the military, Friend started his own aerospace company. His daughter told KCAL her father was working up until 2018, doing speaking engagements at schools and sharing his story,

Public services will most likely be over the weekend following July 4, KCAL reported.

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