Friend’s daughter, Karen Friend Crumlich, told the Desert Sun newspaper her father died at a hospital in Long Beach, Calif. The cause of death was not disclosed.
“My dad was my hero. He was always there for me and at the end, I wanted to be there for him,” she told the outlet. “He passed with family and dear friends surrounding him with love and affection. He is truly a National Treasure who I will carry in my heart. I promise to keep his legacy alive by telling his story to anyone who wants to hear it.”
Friend was born in Columbia, S.C., on Feb. 29, 1920. During his time with the Tuskegee “Red Tails,” as the group was then called, he served as a wingman for the unit’s commander, Benjamin O. Davis, who went on to become the Air Force’s first African-American general.
The Tuskegee program, which trained pilots, navigators and ground crews, was created by the military after the NAACP started challenging policies barring black people from flying military aircraft.
“I never felt that I was anything but an American doing a job,” Friend told the Desert Sun in 2017.
Friend spent 28 years in the Air Force, serving in the Korean and Vietnam wars. He also worked on space launch vehicles and served as a foreign technology program director before retiring as a lieutenant colonel and forming his own aerospace company.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.