Retired Lt. Col. Alexander Jefferson, a member of the Tuskegee Airmen, World War II prisoner of war and lifelong Detroiter, died Wednesday.
He was 100 years old.
The Tuskegee Airmen were the nation's first African American military pilots, and Jefferson was among the first to escort bombers in WWII.
Jefferson was honored on his 100th birthday in November as Detroit officials awarded him a key to the city, shared plans to construct Lt. Col. Alexander Jefferson Plaza and rededicated Jefferson Field in Rouge Park, where he played as a child and flew model airplanes.
A Detroit native, Jefferson attended Craft Elementary School, Condon Intermediate School and Chadsey High School. He earned a bachelor's degree from Clark College in Atlanta, did graduate work in chemistry at Howard University and received a master's degree in education from Wayne State University.
He graduated from Tuskegee Army Air Field's pilot training in 1944, followed by combat training at Selfridge airfield in Harrison Township.
He served in World War II as a P-51 fighter pilot with the 332nd Fighter Group-301st Fighter Squadron in Ramitelli, Italy, later called the "Red Tails."
Jefferson flew 18 missions before being shot down and held as a prisoner in Poland for eight months in 1944-45.
He was honorably discharged from active duty in 1947 and retired from the reserves in 1969 with the rank of lieutenant colonel.