Robert L. Martin, a combat pilot who said he flew “63 and a half” missions during World War II as part of the barrier-breaking Tuskegee Airmen, died July 26 at a senior living center in Olympia Fields, Illinois. He was 99.

Martin was shot down over German-occupied territory on his 64th mission and spent five weeks trying to return to Allied lines with the help of Josip Broz Tito’s anti-fascist Yugoslav partisans.

Lt. Robert L. Martin

On March 3, 1945, he was one of 24 Tuskegee Airmen who climbed into their single-seat P-51 Mustang fighters from their base in Ramitelli, Italy, to conduct a rail-strafing mission in parts of Slovenia and Austria. Two pilots did not return – Martin and Alphonso Simmons, who were hit by antiaircraft fire. Simmons was killed.

Martin was spotted by members of Tito’s partisan forces, which controlled swaths of Yugoslav territory.

After a month, he was airlifted to Bari, Italy, and weeks later he celebrated V-E Day in Naples.

Martin, known as “Fox,” grew up in Iowa and became entranced by airplanes when he attended an air show as a 13-year-old Boy Scout. He persuaded his father to let him take a ride on a Ford Trimotor.

“And the pilot, after starting the engine, buckled me in, he touched me with a wire and shocked me, and he said, ‘You’re going to be a pilot,'” Martin remembered in a video interview.

During college, Martin completed a civilian pilot-training program, joking that for a small fee “you could get silver wings and get all the girls.”

War was raging when he graduated from Iowa State University.

He joined the Army Air Forces and trained at the segregated military complex in Tuskegee, Alabama, in January 1944.

With the rank of lieutenant, he immediately set sail for Italy and was attached to the 100th Fighter Squadron, which helped provide cover for Allied bombers on missions over targets in Europe.