Former Tuskegee Airman to Talk at Marshall Foundation

Enriching military history, Lt. Col. Robert J. Friend, USAF (Ret.) will talk about his experiences as a fighter pilot during World War II beginning at 3:00 pm on Feb. 27 in the Pogue Auditorium at the George C. Marshall Foundation in Lexington.

Col. Friend is the last surviving member of the 332nd Fighter Group of the Tuskegee Airmen. He flew 142 combat missions over Europe during World War II, many of those as the wingman for Col. Benjamin Davis, the squadron commander, who became the first African American general in the U.S. Air Force.

The public is invited and must register by calling Leigh McFaddin at (540) 463-7103, ext. 138 or by sending an email to Members and students will be admitted free; non-members will pay $15 at the door.

Army Chief of Staff Marshall was directly involved in the establishment of the military program for aviation at the Tuskegee Institute. Correspondence between Marshall and Dr. Frederick D. Patterson, president of the Tuskegee Institute, shows that Marshall expressed an interest in developments at the Tuskegee Institute throughout the war and offered his support to help the program succeed.

Four hundred and fifty of the pilots who were trained at Tuskegee served in North Africa, Sicily and Italy from April 1943 until July 1944 when they were transferred to the 332nd Fighter Group in the 15th Air Force. Robert Friend was one of those pilots.

After leaving the Army, Col. Friend began a career with the Air Force and served as assistant deputy of launch vehicles, Foreign Technology Program director and director of the Unidentified Aerial Phenomena Program.

This event is a part of the All Who Want to Serve sequence of the Marshall Legacy Series and is being presented in partnership with the U.S. Army Women’s Museum.

Guests can see the exhibition, “For My Country, For Myself,” that will remain open through April.

General Marshall had a daunting problem to solve: staffing the Army for a global war. As Marshall grew the Army to 8,000,000 in uniform by war’s end in 1945, he encouraged all able bodied men and women to serve.

Marshall crossed traditional boundaries to create special units formed along racial and ethnic lines. The famous Tuskegee Airmen grew from the needs for more airmen in fighter units. Native American “code talkers” were deployed to the Pacific by the Army and Marine Corps to use native languages for coded communication. In January 1943 General Marshall approved the formation of all-Nisei combat units.

The George C. Marshall Legacy Series interprets General Marshall’s legacy through a multi-year series of exhibitions, speakers and programs centered on key themes or episodes from General Marshall’s career.

Additional activities to occur during the All Who Want to Serve sequence include a Patriotic Paint Party on March 19, 2016, complete with food, refreshments, painting and instruction, and the Marshall Matinee Film Series showings of the following films (April 9, Wind Talker; April 16, Go For Broke and April 23, Tuskegee Airmen).

See photos of the event