Lowell Steward, a member of the Tuskegee Airmen who flew more than 100 missions during World War II, died Wednesday, according to Ron Brewington, former national public relations officer for the Tuskegee Airmen. Steward was 95.
Steward died of natural causes at a hospital in Ventura, according to Brewington.
"He was a true American hero," his son, Lowell Jr., told The Times. "We will miss him, but it was his time."
Steward joined the Army Air Corps -- which would later become the Army Air Forces and then the Air Force -- after he graduated with a business degree from Santa Barbara College in 1941, Brewington said.
"As far as his time in the service, he was most proud of his part in integrating the armed forces," the younger Steward said. "He was proud to show the world the armed forces should be integrated."
Steward, who was childhood friends with Jackie Robinson, according to Lowell Jr., went to Italy in 1944 with the 100th Fighter Squadron of the all-African American unit, Brewington said.
He completed missions flying P-39 Airacobras and P-40 Warhawks, and later flew escort and strafing missions in P-51 Mustangs when he was based in Ramitelli, Italy, according to Brewington.
Members of the Tuskegee Airmen were awarded the Congressional Gold Medal by President George W. Bush in 2007.
Steward was also awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross, according to the Associated Press.
Once he was out of the military, Steward struggled to obtain a bank loan because he was African American, Lowell Jr. said.
"So he said 'fine,' and went and got his real estate license so he could help others who were having the same problem," his son said. "He was proud of his work as one of the first African American real estate brokers in L.A. County."
Steward started the Tuskegee Airmen Los Angeles Chapter in 1974 and was the first chapter president, Brewington said. His son became president of the chapter four years ago but is stepping down Friday and will be replaced by Brewington.
A complete obituary will follow at latimes.com/obits.