A 98-year-old Tuskegee Airman was honored by his hometown high school for his achievements and contribution to United States history.
Retired Lieutenant Colonel James Harvey III, 98, returned to Fairview High School in Mountain Top, Pennsylvania, to be recognized along with two other unnamed school district graduates who “have gone on to really accomplish some great things, nationally and internationally,” according to Superintendent Robert F. Mehalick.
Before graduating from the high school in 1942, Harvey left his mark on the school by earning the positions of both valedictorian and class president.
A band welcomed Lt. Col. Harvey as he arrived to the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton airport on Monday Oct. 18, when he was then escorted to his car to prepare for the celebration.
Harvey, who is one of the last living members of the esteemed Black military squadron, was a fighter pilot with the 332nd Fighter Group’s 99th Fighter Squadron and made history as the first Black United States Air Force jet fighter combat pilot to fight in the Korean War.
After being drafted into the Army in April 1943, he tried his hand in the Army Air Corp of Engineers, before deciding it wasn’t quite the right fit and applying for cadet training as one of 10 candidates, and the only Black one to move on to pilot school, and trained at the Tuskegee Army Air Field. “We had to prove ourselves. You can’t take that away from us. … We wanted to be the best,” Harvey said of his time with his fellow airmen.
During his time serving in the military, Harvey and his colleagues had to overcome racism in the form of more challenging standards than their white counterparts, ones that were set in hopes of elevating Black failure rates.
“We lost a lot of good pilots — not because of their flying,” he said last month at a Veterans of Foreign Wars gathering in Fayetteville, North Carolina, The Fayetteville Observer reported.
Harvey was also was one of three pilots to compete in the the inaugural U.S. Air Force Weapons Meet at Nellis Air Force Base in 1949, where his unit placed first in the competition.
Over the course of his military career, Harvey earned 11 air medals, including the Distinguished Flying Cross. The former pilot retired from the military in 1965 as a lieutenant colonel after 22 years of service and currently lives in Denver, Colorado.