World War II fighter pilot John Lyle, a Tuskegee Airman, has died at the age of 98.
Lyle died Saturday at his home on Chicago’s South Side, his wife, Eunice, said Monday. She added that Lyle had been battling prostate cancer.
The members of the nation’s first black fighter squadron won acclaim for their aerial prowess and bravery, despite a military that imposed segregation on its African-American recruits while respecting the rights of German prisoners.
Lyle, who named his plane “Natalie” after his first wife, was credited with shooting down a German Messerschmitt.
“We flew 500 feet above the bombers to keep enemy fighters from hitting our guys,” he recalled in a 2012 interview with Jet magazine. “I loved flying, being up in the clouds, the scenery. I flew 26 combat missions, from southern Italy to Austria and southern Germany, over the Austrian Alps.”
Lyle told Jet he was fired upon several times.
“I watched bombers being torn apart, but they were performing the mission they signed up to do,” Lyle said. “And when I had to shoot the guy who was shooting at the planes I was protecting, I did not feel bad because that was my assignment.”
“He had no fear,” Eunice Lyle told the Chicago Sun-Times . “None at all.”
In 2007, President George W. Bush and Congress bestowed the Congressional Gold Medal on Lyle and other members of the squadron.
After the war, Lyle served as a police officer with the Chicago Park District and founded a tree-trimming company. He later took up sailing.
“He was an amazing sailor,” said Janet Hansen of the Jackson Park Yacht Club. “He could sail his boat in any weather.”
In addition to his wife, Lyle is survived by three step-children.