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Tuskegee Airman buried at Arlington

Retired Air Force Lt. Col. Lee A. Archer, a Tuskegee Airman, died in New York at age 90 in January.
Retired Air Force Lt. Col. Lee A. Archer, a Tuskegee Airman, died in New York at age 90 in January.
  • Retired Air Force Lt. Col. Lee A. Archer died last month in New York
  • Archer shot down three German fighters in span of only minutes
  • He received Distinguished Flying Cross, witnessed military's desegregation
  • After the military, Archer worked at General Foods and started venture capital company

(CNN) -- One of America's top World War II fighter pilots, an African-American who took on Nazis abroad and racism at home, was laid to rest Friday at Arlington National Cemetery.

Retired Air Force Lt. Col. Lee A. Archer, one of the famed Tuskegee Airmen, died last month in New York at the age of 90. Archer, who once shot down three German fighters in the span of only a few minutes, went on to become a corporate executive and venture capitalist.

His life came to be seen as an example of the potential of any individual, regardless of skin color or background, if given a fair opportunity.

Lee Andrew Archer Jr. was born in 1919 in Yonkers, New York. An aviation enthusiast from childhood, he left New York University in 1941 to join the Army. Despite passing a pilot's test, he was assigned as a communications specialist in Camp Wheeler, Georgia.

But several months later, after the United States declared war on the Axis powers, Archer was selected to join a training program for potential black pilots at Alabama's Tuskegee Army Air Field.

Archer graduated first in the program in July 1943 and, after receiving his commission as a second lieutenant, was deployed to Italy as part of the 332nd Fighter Group.

On October 12, 1944, while piloting a P-51 Mustang, Archer downed three Luftwaffe fighters in the sky over Nazi-occupied Hungary. He also was credited with shooting down a fighter over Germany earlier in the year.

U.S. military officials could not confirm a fifth downing by Archer in summer 1944. If they had been able to do so, he would have become the only Tuskegee Airman to be officially designated as an ace.

By the end of World War II, Archer had flown 169 combat missions, providing cover and escorting U.S. bombers in over 11 countries, according to the Air Force. He was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross.

Archer remained in the military through 1970, witnessing its desegregation during the Truman administration and serving in several capacities. Among other things, he became a diplomatic officer at Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe and was chief of headquarters at the U.S. Air Force Southern Command in Panama.

He received special citations for his service from Presidents Eisenhower, Kennedy and Johnson.

After retiring from the military, Archer became an executive at General Foods and started Archer Asset Management, a venture capital firm.

Archer's wife, Ina, died in 1996. He is survived by three sons.