Robert Friend

February 29, 1920 – June 21, 2019

Class 43-K-SE 12/5/1943 2nd Lt. 0817584 New York, NY
Unit: 301st Fighter Squadron of the 332nd Fighter Group
Awards: Distinguished Flying Cross, Presidential Unit Citation, Bronze Star with Flying Cross; 3 Distinguished Service Medals, and an Air Medal
Pilot roster listing

The history and legacy of the Tuskegee Airmen is inspirational to people of all ages. Their life lessons can impart a special meaning for people from all walks of life. From a child in awe of a red-tailed airplane, to the elderly veteran full of gratitude for their fellow war heroes, there is something in each of their stories that can inspire us all to live better, fuller and braver lives.

One such hero is Robert Friend, born in Columbia, South Carolina, his parents were William A. Friend from Quito, Ecuador and Nella Mae (Jones) Liner of South Carolina.

Friend was interested in aviation from a young age. He read stories of World War I pilots in old magazines and made his own makeshift airplanes for imaginative play. Friend had wanted to enlist in the Army to fly for our country, but was turned away. Even though the country was making preparations for war, black Americans could not join the Armed Forces to serve as pilots.

While a student at Lincoln University in Pennsylvania – the first historically black college to grant college degrees – he took aviation-related courses. When the Civilian Pilot Training Program began in 1939 for college students, Friend eagerly applied and was accepted. He completed the program and earned his private pilot’s license. But this was only the first step to becoming a military pilot. When the program opened an opportunity for a segregated pilot training program at Tuskegee, Friend finally had his chance to join the war effort and earn his wings for his country.

After successfully completing all phases of training, he was commissioned as an officer in the U.S. Army Air Corps, and assigned to the 301st Fighter Squadron of the 332nd Fighter Group. By that time, the country had officially entered the war. When he deployed overseas, Friend was first sent to North Africa, then to the Europe Theater as a Combat Operations Officer at the squadron and group levels. He was responsible for planning and organizing the implementation of strategic and tactical air missions.

He was a skilled pilot in the P-47 and P-51 aircraft. He flew wing man for Benjamin O. Davis Jr., who would later go on to become the first black general of the United States Air Force.

Flying first the P-47, and then the P-51 for almost two years, Lt. Col. Friend flew 142 combat missions in the P-51 Mustang over Europe during World War II. Lt. Col. Friend also served as Operations Officer for the 301st squadron and was the last Operations Officer of the 332nd fighter group.  He also served in Korea and Vietnam. He 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.

His service extended in several other capacities during the Korean and Vietnam wars. He finished his education at the Air Force Institution of Technology.

His career with the Air Force included serving as Assistant Deputy of Launch Vehicles, working on important space launch vehicles such as the Titan, Atlas and Delta rockets and the Space Shuttle. He served as a Foreign Technology Program Director where he identified and monitored research and development programs related to national security. He was also the Director of the Unidentified Aerial Phenomena Program, tasked with investigating unidentified flying objects.

After retiring from the Air Force in 1972, Lt. Col. Friend became the Assistant to the President for Fairchild Stratus Companies in Manhattan Beach, California, overseeing the design and production of space products for the space shuttle.  In his third career he remained Executive Vice President for the Stanford Mu Corporation in Los Angeles, California, which is a company that produces primary space components for the International Space Station and other Satellite Systems.  Lt. Col. Friend was involved in Research and Development Activities for over fifty years responsible for formulating, monitoring, evaluating, and controlling programs and projects for scientific and technological application to meet USAF Special Weapons Fire Control Systems and Major Missile Systems strategic and tactical requirements.

During his career, Lt. Col. Friend obtained a degree in Astro Physics under the Air Force Institute of Technology and received advanced management degrees from UCLA Graduate Business School and the US Air Force Program Management Course, Special Weapons School and Air War College.

In retirement, Lt. Col. Friend spent his time traveling and speaking at different events about his experiences as a pilot with the Tuskegee Airmen Red Tails. He was involved with the Palm Springs Air Museum and its flight program restoring a P-51D Mustang to flying status. The aircraft is painted with the markings that match those from Lt. Col. Friend’s P-51 during the war.  Friend also participated with other charities, including events with Ride 2 Recovery, which supports all veterans coming home helping to get them back on the right road.

Lt. Col. Friend resided in Irvine, California.  He was married to Doris “Bunny” Hall and Kathryn Ann Dorsey before marrying Anna (maiden name), to whom he was married for 51 years, when she died in 2010. He is survived by children Thelma Hoffman, Robert J. Friend, Jr., Michael D. Friend, Debra D. Carter, Dana A. Friend, Clara Ann Browning, and Karen E. Crumlich. His son Darry R. Friend died in 2002 while on active duty. He is also survived by 19 grandchildren, 31 great-grandchildren, and 19 great-great grandchildren. At his death, he was one of 12 surviving Red Tail Pilots.

Lt. Col. Friend was a master bridge player, well known and respected nationally, and competed in national tournaments in his spare time.

In lieu of flowers, the family requests donations be made to The Palm Springs Air Museum. You may donate online  or call 760-482-1836.


The CAF Red Tail Squadron is a volunteer-driven organization dedicated to educating audiences across the country about the history and legacy of the Tuskegee Airmen, America’s first black military pilots and their support personnel. Learn more at