Six men, most of them in their nineties, proudly stood at attention as the Disneyland Band played “Wild Blue Yonder,” the official song of the U.S. Air Force.
The men were Tuskegee Airmen, and were there to be honored during the Flag Retreat Ceremony in Town Square at Disneyland on Friday, March 23, 2017.
“I was the last operations officer in the combat organization,” said retired Lt. Col. Bob Friend, 97, of Irvine.
Friend and the others are members of the Los Angeles chapter of the organization of African Americans who served in that branch during World War II.
He was also a pilot, and flew 142 missions in a P-51. He was based in Italy and provided coverage for the bombers as they would make their way to their targets, over the targets and then back to base.
“I would also strafe the enemy and more,” he said.
Friend stayed in the military until he retired in 1971.
“I loved to fly airplanes,” he said.
As his Air Force career continued, he qualified to fly jets, too. His family also became members of the Airmen, but for a different reason.
“My sisters all married Tuskegee Airmen.”
Retired Lt. Col. Ted Lumpkin, 97, of Los Angeles, is also a member of the group, but on the ground.
“I was drafted,” he said.
His eyes were not good enough for him to become a pilot; so instead, he became an intelligence officer.
“I would brief the pilots before the missions, then debrief them when they came back,” he said.
The pilots were the best of the best, Lumpkin said, adding that they were in the best physical shape and had strong egos. But those egos didn’t matter at the end of some missions.
“When they don’t come back, it’s a very, very sad day,” Lumpkin said.
Lumpkin also expressed hope that there would be an end to war.
“I’m hopeful that we get to the point some day we won’t have to have wars to settle our disputes.”
After lowering and folding the U.S. flag, the flag detail of Disneyland’s Security department…