WWII airpower legend receives honorary promotion to Colonel

  • Published
  • By U.S. Air Force Academy Strategic Communications
  • 307th Bomb Wing

At 100 years old, World War II and Korean War airpower legend U.S. Air Force 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. 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 on Nov. 4.

Sen. 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.  

A Distinguished Career

“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. 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.”

Top Gunnery Competition

In 1949, at the first-ever Top Gunnery Meet at (then) Las Vegas Air Force Base, Nev., 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 Air Force Base, Nev., with proof of the 332nd Fighter Group win.

To honor Harvey and all the Tuskegee Airmen, two planes embodying their legacy flew overhead. The P-47 Thunderbolt, the plan 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.

Air Force Global Strike Command is committed to honoring the proud legacy of the Tuskegee Airmen and reinforcing the historical connection between Tuskegee Airmen and AFGSC by creating Project Tuskegee. AFGSC has partnered with Tuskegee University and Angelo State University in the hopes to increase opportunities for various underrepresented groups within local communities and AFROTC cadets to be exposed to opportunities available as an AFGSC Striker. Due to the command's unique historical ties with the Tuskegee Airmen, its founding partner is Tuskegee University with the goal of cultivating relationships with communities and universities across the nation. This initiative will increase awareness of educational and career opportunities in the command's rated and non-rated operations career fields. 

For more information on Project Tuskegee visit: https://www.afgsc.af.mil/Project-Tuskegee/