Fred L. Brewer Jr., a native of Charlotte and graduate of Shaw University in Raleigh, climbed into a P-51C Mustang at an air base in southern Italy on Oct. 29, 1944, and was never heard from again.
Brewer, one of the famed Tuskegee Airmen, was piloting one of 57 fighter planes that were to escort bombers on a mission to Regensburg, a small city in southern Germany. Heavy cloud cover prevented the fighters from finding the bombers, and most returned safety to Ramitelli Air Field.
But Brewer did not, and for 79 years his whereabouts were unknown.
Now the Pentagon says it has identified Brewer’s remains, using a combination of detective work and a DNA match with one of his relatives. The Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency confirmed the results of its work on Aug. 10, and they were first reported by The Washington Post.
According to the Pentagon, another pilot on the mission saw Brewer climb to try to rise above the cloud cover but his plane, “Travelin Lite,” stalled and fell into a spin near the Austrian border. The military never found his plane, and Brewer was declared missing in action.
His parents, Fred and Janie Brewer of Charlotte, were told he had been declared dead two weeks later. Their son, a second lieutenant, was 23.
After the war, the military recovered a body from a civilian cemetery near the Austrian border but could not identify it. The body, marked as “unknown,” was buried in an American cemetery south of Florence, where Brewer’s name is one of 1,409 listed on Tablets of the Missing.
In 2011, researchers took another look at the case of the body found in the civilian cemetery. They discovered an Italian police report that indicated the remains had been recovered from a crashed fighter plane on the day Brewer disappeared. In June 2022, the body was exhumed and sent to a laboratory, where DNA testing was able to confirm Brewer’s identity.
A cousin, Brenda L. Brewer, told The Washington Post that funeral arrangements have not been made but that she would like to see Brewer buried in Charlotte.
Brewer was born there in 1921 and graduated from Second Ward High School, according to the CAF Rise Above Squadron, which has put together profiles of hundreds of Tuskegee Airmen, the Black fighter and bomber pilots who flew with the U.S. Army Air Force during World War II.
He graduated from Shaw in 1942 and enlisted in the Army the following year. He received pilot training at Tuskegee Army Air Field in Tuskegee, Alabama, and after combat training in Michigan and South Carolina was sent to Europe in late spring 1944.
Brewer was awarded the Purple Heart and Air Medal with one bronze oak leaf cluster after his death. They were presented to his family.
Since the mid-1970s, the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency has identified the remains of more than 1,500 soldiers, sailors, Marines and airmen from World War II. It says that more than 72,000 from that conflict remain unaccounted for.