It’s not every day that history walks through the doors of Edison High School.
Lt. Col. Robert Friend, of the legendary Tuskegee Airmen, spent the day speaking with students and sharing memories from his time serving in World War II.
Smiling as historic photos of Tuskegee Airmen rotated on a large screen for everyone to see, Friend pointed out and shared stories of the many men he once served with.
“Anytime students have an opportunity to see living history, it’s important,” said Ashleigh Hampton, coordinator of the event and substitute teacher at Edison.
The Tuskegee Airmen included everyone involved in the “Tuskegee Experience,” an Army Air Corps (Air Force) program that began in 1941 to train African-Americans to fly and maintain combat aircraft. The pilots, also known as “Red Tails” due to the identifying red paint on their plane’s tail, went on to become one of the most highly respected fighter groups of WWII. The Tuskegee Airmen were awarded the Congressional Gold Medal, the highest civilian award presented by Congress, in 2007.
Friend was assigned to the famed 332nd Fighter Group and served as the primary wing-man to its commander, Col. Benjamin Davis. During his time in combat, Friend completed 142 missions. He retired from the Air Force in 1972 after serving 30 years.
When recalling one of the scariest moments during combat, Friend stated it was when his plane died forcing him to jump out with his parachute.
“I landed and saw a lady running towards me with a knife,” Friend said, “but I soon realized she wasn’t interested in killing me—all she wanted was my parachute because I never saw it again!”
Speaking at his 66th event this year, the 97-year-old Friend is still mobile but assisted by his daughter Karen Crumlich. He is one of thirteen Red Tail pilots still alive.
“It’s important for my father to let everyone know their story because it’s not in the history books,” Crumlich said. “If they don’t tell it, then who will?”