June 24 (UPI) -- One of the last surviving Tuskegee Airmen -- the historic black fighter squadron during World War II -- has died in California, his family said. He was 99.
Retired Lt. Col Robert Friend died Friday from sepsis. He flew 142 combat missions during the war as part of the 332nd Fighter Group. He spent 28 years in the military, also flying missions during conflicts in Korea and Vietnam.
Friend flew P-47 Thunderbolt and P-51 Mustang aircraft. The Tuskegee Airmen were widely recognized by the red tails on their planes. Although they fought with distinction, the airmen faced discrimination and civil right challenges when they returned to the United States.
"Once everybody got there, we called the chaplain and we did a prayer," daughter Karen Crumlich said. "During the prayer, right when we said amen, he took his last breath. We know that he went on his own terms and everybody he loved was in that room."
Public services will be held the weekend of July 4. He will get full military honors at the Palm Springs Air Museum in Palm Springs, Calif.
Even at age 99, Friend worked until last year, signing autographs and speaking to children about his time in the historic group.
"He'd tell them they could do anything they wanted as long as they went for it and don't let anyone stop them from doing it," Crumlich said.