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Tuskegee Airman who flew 142 WWII combat missions and fought in Korea and Vietnam dies at 99
Lt. Col. Robert Friend was always glad to share his story with schoolkids — and what a story it was.
Friend, one of the last surviving Tuskegee Airmen, died Friday at age 99 at his Long Beach, Calif., home.
Not only did Friend fly 142 missions in the iconic black unit in the Army Air Corps, he went on to serve in the Korean and Vietnam wars.
Up until last year, Friend signed autographs and told his story at schools, his daughter Karen Crumlich told KCAL.
The men in his unit were trained at Tuskegee Army Air Field in Alabama, and were the first black aviators in the Air Corps. The airmen completed more than 15,000 missions in Europe and North Africa, and earned more than 150 Distinguished Flying Crosses.
Friend remained in the service when World War II ended, and wound up spending 28 years in the military.
He frequently visited the Palm Springs Air Museum, which restored a P-51 Mustang "Bunny" similar to the one flown by Friend during World War II.
"He was our guiding light," said Air Museum Director Fred Bell told The Desert Sun. "It will be a long time before there is another man like him."
He died of sepsis, surrounded by family and friends after they said a prayer, his daughter said.
"And during the prayer, right when we said 'amen,' he took his last breath," Crumlich told KCAL.
There were 992 Tuskegee Airmen who graduated the Tuskegee Army Air Field between 1942 and 1946, according to the Tuskegee Airmen National Historical Museum.
The Tuskegee Airmen Inc. said it's impossible to know exactly how many members from the program that ran March 22, 1941 to Nov. 5, 1949 are still alive, but there were but as of May 2019, there were 12 of 355 single-engine pilots who served in the Mediterranean theater operation during World War II still alive.
The ranks dropped by one on Friday, but Friend's daughter says she will "keep his legacy alive by telling his story to anyone who wants to hear it."
©2019 New York Daily News. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
2 years after the Fitzgerald and McCain collisions, the Navy has no idea if its new ship-driving training is working
Two years after a pair of deadly collisions involving Navy ships killed 17 sailors and caused hundreds of millions of dollars of damage, the Navy still can't figure out whether its plan to improve ship-driving training has been effective.
In fact, according to senior Navy officials quoted in a recent Government Accountability Office report on Navy ship-driving, it could take nearly 16 years or more to know if the planned changes will actually have an impact.
The command chief of the 20th Fighter Wing at Shaw Air Force Base, South Carolina, was removed from his position last month after his chain of command received evidence he disrespected his subordinates.
An Air Force private housing company faked its maintenance records to get millions of dollars in bonuses
SAN ANTONIO, Texas (Reuters) - A U.K. company that provides housing to U.S. military families came under official investigation earlier this year, after Reuters disclosed it had faked maintenance records to pocket performance bonuses at an Oklahoma Air Force base.
At the time, Balfour Beatty Communities said it strove to correctly report its maintenance work. It blamed any problems on a sole former employee at the Oklahoma base.
Now, Reuters has found that Balfour Beatty employees systematically doctored records in a similar scheme at a Texas base.
Editor's Note: This article originally appeared on ProPublica.
It was 10 p.m. on Jan. 15, 2018, when the phone rang in Navy Cmdr. Bryce Benson's home tucked into a wooded corner of Northern Virginia.
Benson had just gotten into bed, and his chest tightened as he saw the number was from Japan. It was his Navy attorney calling. The lawyer said he wished he had better news, but he'd get right to the point: The Navy was going to charge Benson with negligent homicide the following day.
Benson, 40, stared at the ceiling in the dark, repeating the serenity prayer as his feet pedaled with anxiety. Next to him, his wife, Alex, who'd followed him through 11 postings while raising three kids, sobbed.
Seven months earlier, Benson had been in command of the destroyer the USS Fitzgerald when it collided with a massive civilian cargo ship off the coast of Japan, ripping open the warship's side. Seven of his sailors drowned, and Benson was almost crushed to death in his cabin. It was then the deadliest maritime accident in modern Navy history.
Benson, who'd served for 18 years, accepted full responsibility. Two months after the crash, the commander of the Pacific fleet fired Benson as captain and gave him a letter of reprimand, each act virtually guaranteeing he'd never be promoted and would have to leave the service far earlier than planned. His career was essentially over.
Then, days later, another of the fleet's destroyers, the USS John S. McCain, collided with a civilian tanker, killing 10 more sailors. The back-to-back collisions exposed the Navy to bruising questions about the worthiness of its ships and the competency of the crews. Angry lawmakers had summoned the top naval officer, Adm. John Richardson, to the Hill.
Under sustained fire, Navy leaders needed a grand, mollifying gesture. So, in a nearly unprecedented move in its history, the Navy decided to treat an accident at sea as a case of manslaughter. Hastily cobbling together charges, the Navy's top brass announced — to the shock of its officers — that the captains of both destroyers would be court-martialed for the sailors' deaths.
The Navy told ProPublica that “given the tragic loss of life, scope and complexity of both collisions," it had an “obligation to exercise due diligence" and its investigation had “informed charges against" Benson and the captain of the McCain.
To many officers, the Navy had gone too far. “There was a deflection campaign," one admiral said recently, likening the Navy's response to shielding itself from an exploding grenade. “It was pretty clear Richardson wanted to dampen the frag pattern."
Even then, no one, least of all Benson, could have predicted how relentless the Navy's pursuit of him would be.