Tuskegee “Top Gun” Pilot To Speak In Estes Park
In May of 1949, 1st Lt. James Harvey III took off from Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada in an obsolete P-47N Thunderbolt propeller-driven fighter and flew into history. He and three other pilots who had trained at an air base in Alabama would distinguish themselves by winning the first Top Gun Weapons Meet in U.S. Air Force history. The winning team from the 332nd Fighter Group had outperformed 11 other Air Force “top gun” teams flying cutting-edge aircraft and won the trophy for a series of aerial bombing, strafing and rocket-firing events.
Curiously, for 46 years the 332nd Fighter Group was never recognized as winner of the Top Gun meet.
“Each year when the Air Force Magazine’s almanac came out, the winner of the 1949 weapons meet was always listed as ‘unknown,’” says Harvey. Furthermore, the trophy from that competition remained locked in a warehouse at Wright-Patterson AFB in Ohio until it finally surfaced in 1995.
“They just didn’t want the public to know about the Tuskegee airmen and how good we were,” Harvey told the Las Vegas Review-Journal last year.
You see that winning team was composed of all African Americans – graduates of flight training at Tuskegee Army Air Field in Alabama near the end of World War Two. The Tuskegee airmen were the first African-American military aviators in the United States armed forces.
Harvey became the first black jet fighter pilot to fly missions over Korean airspace.
Retired Lt. Col. James Harvey will share his experiences as an Air Force pilot when he speaks at the Stanley Hotel on Friday, Oct. 4th at 7:00 p.m. His speech is sponsored in part by Estes Park Post 119 of the American Legion and is free and open to the public.
His talk will recall the obstacles the Tuskegee Airmen had to overcome both in the service and out of it when Jim Crow laws permeated the south. There were separate drinking fountains, separate eating facilities, separate clubs. The entire air base was segregated. Tension grew until the base commander was replaced and the new commander did away with all the segregated activities. Everyone ate, worked, socialized and did everything together.
The Tuskegee Airmen once numbered more than 900. Like a lot of WWII units, that number has shriveled to just a few dozen. Not all were pilots. In fact the majority served as ground support personnel, mechanics, nurses, and instructors.
Harvey’s story is compelling, revealing, and inspiring. Save the date!