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Decorated Tuskegee Airman Lowell Steward Dies At 95

Lowell Steward, one of the famed World War II Tuskegee Airmen, has died at age 95 at a hospital in Ventura, Calif., his family says.

Steward, a Los Angeles native who flew 143 missions and was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross among other awards, died on Wednesday.

He joined the Army Air Corps after graduating from Santa Barbara College in 1941. He subsequently trained at Tuskegee Army Air Field in Alabama.

In 1944, he was shipped to Italy and flew missions over Germany in P-39 Aircobras, P-40 Warhawks and ultimately, P-51 Mustangs, arguably the most advanced American fighter of the war. Among other things, the unit scored three kills of the German Me-262 jet fighter in a single day in 1945.

Steward's son, Lowell Jr., said the first black military pilots were subject to intense scrutiny by the military command.

"He would say, 'We had to be better because we were looked at harder. The odds were stacked against us. Some people wanted us to fail,'" Lowell Jr. was quoted by Reuters as saying.

Despite the unit's impressive war record, Steward returned to a segregated United States, where he was denied a mortgage for a home because he was black.

"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, Lowell Jr., told The Los Angeles Times. "He was proud of his work as one of the first African-American real estate brokers in L.A. County."

Steward went on to a 40-year career in real estate.

"He was a true American hero," his son told the Times.

"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."

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Scott Neuman is a reporter and editor, working mainly on breaking news for NPR's digital and radio platforms.