6/19/2019 0 Comments
By Deb Hurley Brobst
Tuesday, May 28, 2019
A fighter pilot with the Tuskegee Airmen asked his audience on May 13 to connect the dots regarding the racial discrimination that all-African-American fighter squadron faced during World War II.
“Who were the Tuskegee Airmen?” retired Lt. Col. James H. Harvey III of Denver asked at a gathering of the Mountain Rendezvous chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution. “We were highly educated college graduates who wanted to fight for their country, but we were told we didn’t have the ability, and we were nothing.”
Harvey, 95, said reports from the Army War College during World War II considered African-Americans incapable of flying planes because they were mentally inferior and didn’t have the initiative and resourcefulness of white men.
“They thought it was a waste of money to try to teach us to fly aircraft,” Harvey said. “They gave us a separate training field (in Tuskegee, Ala.), and for us, everything had to be exact.”
He said the Army chose Tuskegee because of its deep racism in the 1940s, and the Army hoped that racism would drive some of the recruits from the program.
White pilots weren’t held to the same standards that African-American were, he said, and in fact, the Army washed out many African-American pilots for things that had nothing to do with flying.
He remembered one pilot who was kicked out because he had a stain on his slacks, and only 996 pilots graduated from the program.
“They made sure we had a washout rate of 73 percent or higher,” Harvey said. “We lost a lot of good pilots.”
He said the Airmen had great success in escorting bombers during the war with one of the lowest loss records, yet much of the information about the squadron was classified by the American government and not available until decades later.
“If we as a race of people did something positive,” Harvey said, “no one heard about it. If we did something bad, it was on the front page.”
In 2007, the Tuskegee Airmen were awarded the Congressional Gold Medal.
After being asked how he found the courage and fortitude to continue in the program, Harvey simply said: “I didn’t have a problem. They had the problem. I did what I had to do to accomplish the mission.”
After retiring from the Army, Harvey worked for Oscar Meyer, retiring in 1980.
The room was silent as Harvey detailed missions and planes he flew, providing intimate details and stories about his time in both World War II and the Korean War.
“He is a hero,” said DAR member Joy Poirot. “This was hidden for so many years. They were so successful, and we need to bring that to the forefront.”
DAR member Vina Lloyd added that it made her sad how the Tuskegee Airmen were treated.
“Hopefully we have come a long way,” Lloyd said. “His experiences made him better, not bitter. He went above the bigotry.”
Sherry Predana, the DAR program chair, said it was important to bring Harvey to speak to the chapter because of the organization’s patriotic emphasis.
“We were thrilled to have him here,” Predana said. “He’s a lovely man.”
Contact Deb Hurley Brobst at firstname.lastname@example.org or 303-350-1041.
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