Heroes of a Generation: Flyer believes ‘God was my co-pilot’
God was Harry Stewart’s co-pilot. He swears by that.
He survived 43 combat missions during World War II and is one of only a dozen remaining Tuskegee Airmen from the famed “Red Tails” fighter group still alive.
He turns 95 on July 4 and said he’ll never forget his days escorting B-17 and B-24 bombers over Italy, Germany and Austria, taking on enemy fighters in his P-51 Mustang.
“It was very cold up there and the missions were tiring because they were quite long. They lasted anywhere from five to six-and-a-half hours, and when we got back to the base all we could think of doing was hitting the sack and getting some rest and being prepared for the next day’s mission,” the retired lieutenant colonel said.
Being shot down and captured was not an option. The black Tuskegee Airmen were showing the world bigotry didn’t belong — except down below.
On April 1, 1945, hate showed its face once again.
“There were seven of us and we were going after targets of opportunity in Austria,” he said of the day his squad got into a dogfight with German fighter pilots.
“Three of us got shot down. One was able to make it back to friendly territory before he crash-landed, one was killed outright when he was shot down and the third one, his plane was damaged so badly that he had to bail out,” said Stewart.
That pilot was captured and lynched three days later by an angry mob.
“The crowd, after being agitated by the SS troops, they broke into the jail and took this downed pilot out and they beat him badly first and then hung him from a lamppost. His name was Walter Manning,” Stewart said. “He was a very dynamic person. He was, I remember, a great swimmer. Lord knows what he would have done had he been able to survive the war.”
Stewart — one of the Heroes of a Generation the Herald is chronicling — almost faced the same fate that day over Austria.
“I realized (as tracer bullets whizzed by him) somebody was shooting at me. A German fighter plane was on my tail and I thought sure that I had had it,” Stewart said. Read the full story here.
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