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Dodgers Honor Tuskegee Airman

Posted: Saturday, April 16, 2016 – 5:43 PM

(CNS) – Retired U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Robert J.  Friend of Irvine, a member of the famed all-black World War II Army Air Corps unit the Tuskegee Airmen, will be honored as the Military Hero of the Game tonight when the Los Angeles Dodgers play host to the San Francisco Giants in the second game of their three-game series.

Friend was born in Columbia, South Carolina in 1920 and earned a private pilot’s license in 1940 when the U.S. Army was not accepting applications for military flight training for nonwhites.

At the insistence of first lady Eleanor Roosevelt and others, a program was established in Tuskegee, Alabama to help blacks learn to fly U.S. Army aircraft. Friend applied in 1942 and was accepted as an air cadet.

He received his wings as a military pilot and commissioned as a second lieutenant, then assigned to the 332nd Fighter Group stationed in the European Theatre.

Friend became the primary wingman to Col. Benjamin O. Davis, the commander of the Tuskegee Airmen. Friend flew P-51s for nearly two years until the end of World War II.

Friend served in the Air Force until 1972. He was research and development director with responsibility for all cockpit components, program director for major development programs and assistant deputy of launch vehicles, including the Titan, Atlas and Delta rockets.

Following his retirement from the Air Force, Friend spent 17 years with Fairchild Stratus Cos. in Manhattan Beach, overseeing the design and production of space shuttle products.

Friend is now executive vice president of the Stanford Mu Corp., which produces primary space components for the International Space Station.

The ceremonial first pitch will be thrown by UFC fighter Paige VanZant, a contestant on “Dancing with the Stars.”

The national anthem will be sung by the rhythm and blues singer Goapele.

From 4-6 p.m., the Everett Coast Band will perform outside the left field reserve area and Trip Band outside the right field reserve area. DJ Adam will spin in the right field plaza and a balloon artist and face painter will be in the left field plaza.

Auto gates will open at 3:40 p.m. and stadium gates at 4:10 p.m. The Dodgers will take batting practice from 3:20-4:20 p.m. and San Francisco from 4:25-5:20 p.m.

Pregame ceremonies, including the national anthem and ceremonial first pitch, will begin at 5:57 p.m., with the game beginning at 6:10 p.m.

 

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