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Missing for almost 80 years, Tuskegee Airman from Charlotte is laid to rest

A Tuskegee Airman
US Army
Fred Brewer was a fighter pilot in the famous "Red Tails" squadron.

Almost 80 years after his P-51 Mustang went missing on a mission over Italy during World War II, Second Lt. Fred Brewer is being laid to rest in Salisbury on Wednesday.

Brewer grew up in Charlotte’s Brooklyn neighborhood and graduated from Shaw University. A Tuskegee Airman, he served in the all-Black fighter unit known as the Red Tails.

In a speech on the floor of the U.S. Capitol Wednesday morning, Congresswoman Alma Adams said Brewer gave his life for a country that was still segregated.

"Lt. Brewer gave the ultimate sacrifice for a country that did not yet see him as an equal citizen," she said. "In serving and in giving his life, Lt. Brewer showed extraordinary faith in his country and in democracy, that while imperfect in its protection and promotion of his life and livelihood, it could still be worthy of his ultimate sacrifice."

Brewer was 23 when he died. He was survived by his parents, who lived on South Myers Street in uptown Charlotte, and a younger sister.

After a memorial service Wednesday morning at Friendship Missionary Baptist Church, he will be buried with full military honors at Salisbury National Cemetery.

According to the U.S. Army, Brewer was one of 57 fighter pilots who departed from Ramitelli Air Base in Italy on Oct. 19, 1944, to escort a group of bombers heading to hit targets in Germany. The group encountered heavy cloud cover, and Brewer tried to climb steeply. His Mustang, nicknamed "Traveling Light" after the Billie Holiday song, stalled. Other pilots saw the plane roll over and plummet, and did not see Brewer eject.

Brewer's remains weren't found and identified at the time.

In 2022, the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency exhumed remains from the Florence American Cemetery in Impruneta and used DNA to attempt an identification. Brewer's remains were identified earlier this year and repatriated to Charlotte.

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Ely Portillo has worked as a journalist in Charlotte for over a decade. Before joining WFAE, he worked at the UNC Charlotte Urban Institute and the Charlotte Observer.