(WASHINGTON) — The remains of a Tuskegee pilot have been identified, 79 years after he went missing during World War II, according to the Defense Department.
Second Lt. Fred L. Brewer Jr. was piloting a single-seat P-51C Mustang nicknamed “Traveling Light” in late October 1944 out of Ramitelli Air Field in Italy when he went missing in action, according to the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency.
The North Carolina native was one of 57 fighters on a bomber escort mission over enemy targets in Regensburg, Germany, though none of the fighters could locate their bomber aircraft or the target. Forty-seven fighters ultimately returned to the base — including nine who returned early due to heavy cloud cover — though Brewer was not among them, according to the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency.
“Reports from other pilots on the mission indicate that 2nd Lt. Brewer had been attempting to climb his aircraft out of the cloud cover but stalled out and fell into a spin,” the agency said.
Brewer was not observed ejecting from the plane. He was reported as missing in action and eventually declared dead, according to local news reports at the time.
Following the war, a body was recovered by U.S. personnel from a civilian cemetery in Italy, though the remains were not able to be identified through the available techniques at the time and were interred as an unknown.
Researchers examining the case in 2011 learned from an Italian police report that the remains were recovered from a fighter plane that crashed on the same day as Brewer’s disappearance. In June 2022, the remains were sent to a Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency laboratory for further study, leading to a positive identification of Brewer last month, the agency recently announced.
Brewer was a graduate of Shaw University in Raleigh, the first historically Black institution of higher education in the South and among the oldest nationwide. He entered the service in November 1943 and graduated from Tuskegee Army Air Field in Alabama in March 1944 before leaving for overseas duty as a pilot in July 1944. He was a pilot with the 100th Fighter Squadron, 332nd Fighter Group, in the European Theater.
He is memorialized on the Tablets of the Missing at the Florence American Cemetery in Impruneta, Italy.
A cousin of Brewer’s told The Washington Post they hope to have his remains buried in Charlotte.
“I remember how devastating it was when they notified my family, my aunt and uncle, that he was missing,” the cousin, Robena Brewer Harrison, told The Washington Post. “It just left a void within our family. My aunt, who was his mother, Janie, she never, ever recovered from that.”
The Tuskegee Airmen were the country’s first African American military pilots and flew combat missions during World War II. The legendary airmen are widely regarded as among the Air Force’s finest. Some 1,000 Black pilots trained at Tuskegee, according to Tuskegee University.
According to the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency, more than 72,000 American service members killed in Word War II remain unaccounted for.
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