WWII airpower legend receives honorary promotion to colonel

  • Published
  • U.S. Air Force Academy Strategic Communications

At 100 years old, World War II and Korean War airpower legend, retired Lt. Col. James H. Harvey III., one of the nation’s first African American fighter pilots with the famed Tuskegee Airmen, received an honorary promotion to the rank of colonel Nov. 4. The honorary promotion took place on Denver’s Empower Field during halftime of the game between the U.S. Air Force Academy Falcons and the U.S. Military Academy Black Knights.

Colorado Senator Michael Bennet initiated the promotion this past summer, and Harvey’s daughters, Alysyn Green and Kathy Harvey, and his niece Karen Jackson pinned on the silver eagle rank of colonel.

“Lieutenant Colonel James H. Harvey III led a distinguished career as a 22-year Army veteran and member of the renowned Tuskegee Airmen,” Bennet said. “Having served in a military that was still segregated, he faced no shortage of obstacles, but his incredible courage, skill, and perseverance led him to earn repeated honors, including as the military's first [African American] fighter jet pilot to fly in Korean airspace and the winner of the military’s original ‘Top Gun’ competition.”

In 1949, at the first Top Gunnery Meet at (then) Las Vegas Air Force Base, Nevada, fighter groups nationwide flew in to participate. Then a lieutenant, Harvey and fellow 332nd Fighter Group Tuskegee Airmen were among the competitors. They executed magnificently in all phases of the meet and were the overall winners. For decades, the record was unceremoniously missing, and official Air Force records listed the winner as unknown. In 1993, the Air Force corrected the record when retired Col. Harry Stewart, from the 1949 team, returned to now-Nellis AFB, Nevada, with proof of the 332nd Fighter Group win.

“I’m honored to have supported Lieutenant Colonel Harvey’s honorary promotion and to recognize his contributions to our country’s history and the advancement of civil rights,” Bennet said.

To honor Harvey and all the Tuskegee Airmen, two planes embodying their legacy flew overhead during the Air Force-Army game. The P-47 Thunderbolt, the plane flown by Tuskegee Airmen from the 332nd Fighter Wing to win the first ever William Tell competition in 1949, and the P-51 Mustang, made iconic by the Tuskegee Airmen during World War II, soared overhead in celebration of the Tuskegee Airmen’s legacy.