Tuskegee Airman: America not perfect but it was, still is worth fighting for – ‘God’ was ‘my co-pilot’
Harry Stewart, a Tuskegee Airman who served in WWII, was born on Independence Day 95-years ago. As he celebrates the birth of both himself and our nation, he says that despite America’s past and present imperfections, he would re-enlist today if he could.
In an op-ed for The Wall Street Journal, Stewart explained that he graduated from Alabama’s Tuskegee Army Flying School (the advanced step after basic aviation at Tuskegee Institute) on June 27, 1944.
“My journey to the flight line started in my high-school library in the New York City borough of Queens. I came across a magazine article about the first all-black flying combat unit, the 99th Pursuit Squadron. I decided right then that when I turned 18 the squadron was where I wanted to serve,” he wrote.
And serve he did, catching a train from New York City down to Alabama as soon as he was eligible.
Stewart reminisced about the train ride, and the culture shock of segregation. However, he was undeterred in his determination to serve his country.
“When the train crossed the Mason-Dixon Line, the conductor came by and pointed at me: ‘Move to the colored car.’ It was disconcerting, but I saw it as an unavoidable hurdle to earning my wings. I swallowed hard and kept going,” Stewart advised.
When he arrived at Tuskegee Army Airfield, he felt a tremendous sense of pride in seeing all of the planes and military emblems.
“You felt you were part of something big, something magnificent. You weren’t just learning to fly; you were serving your country, and you were going to fight,” Stewart emphasized.
Stewart would go on to fly 43 combat missions at the control of a P-51 Mustang with the 332nd Fighter Group, known as the Red Tails, under the command of the legendary Benjamin O. Davis, Jr. Stewart would eventually retire as an Air Force lieutenant colonel.
Awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for his heroism, Stewart wrote, “I was thankful that my country had given me the opportunity to fly and fight, and all these years later I am proud that I contributed to the cause.”
“We called it winning the Double V, victory against totalitarianism abroad and institutional racism at home,” he continued.
“July 4 is my birthday, but I celebrate my country’s birthday too,” Stewart concluded. “America was not perfect in the 1940s and is not perfect today, yet I fought for it then and would do so again.”
Stewart is the subject of a newly released biography entitled, “Soaring to Glory: A Tuskegee Airman’s Firsthand Account of World War II.” He has been interviewed frequently recently leading up to the book’s publication.
For example, speaking with The Mercury News, Stewart shared some of his most emotional memories from battle and said that patriotism transcends race.
He also credited God with getting him through the war.
“Somebody was with me. I guess it was God as my co-pilot,” he said.
Sean Ross is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn