Lieutenant Colonel Robert Jones Friend (February 29, 1920 – June 21, 2019) was a Tuskegee airman during World War II and led the USAF’s Project Blue Book from 1958 to 1963. He also served during the Korean War and the Vietnam War. He had a 28 year military career.
Friend was born in Columbia, South Carolina on February 29, 1920. From an early age, he loved airplanes and wanted to sign up to fly for the army, but he was turned away because he was black. He attended Lincoln University in Pennsylvania and studied aviation.
During World War II, Friend had 142 combat missions. After WWII began the army began a segregated program for black pilots in Tuskegee, Alabama. Friend immediately signed up and completed training. The U.S. Army Air Corps commissioned him as an officer in the 332nd Fighter Group. He was sent to Africa and later Europe.
After World War II, Friend stayed in the service and eventually served in the Korean and Vietnam War. He was in the military for a total of 28 years. He was a graduate of the Air Force Institute of Technology.
2 Distinguished Flying Crosses (United States)
Bronze Star Medal ribbon
U.S. Army Presidential Unit Citation ribbon
3 U.S. Army Distinguished Service Medal ribbons
The Air Medal
Congressional Gold Medal (2007)
Air Force study on UFOs
Friend said he believed in the possibility of Extraterrestrial life in the universe. Friend led the Air Force study on UFOs. In 1952, the U.S. Air Force started a classified study called Project Blue Book. The project was shut down in 1969 even though 701 documented incidents remain a mystery.
Friend had been married three times. Friend’s first marriage to Doris “Bunny” Goodwin, of whom he had named his P-51 Mustang after, ended in divorce. They had a son and a daughter. His second marriage to Kathryn Ann Holland also ended in divorce. They had three sons and one daughter. His third marriage to Anna Rice lasted more than 50 years until her death in 2010. They had one biological and one adopted daughter.
Lt. Col. Friend died on June 21, 2019 in Long Beach, California at the age of 99 due to sepsis, according to his daughter. At the time, he was one of 12 remaining Tuskegee Airmen. He had flown 142 combat missions in World War II as part of the elite group of fighter pilots trained at Alabama’s Tuskegee Institute. A public viewing and memorial was held at the Palm Springs Air Museum on July 6. He had spoken about his experiences in many different events prior to his death, such as in John Murdy Elementary School’s “The Gratitude Project” in Garden Grove.