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Centenarian hero: Tuskegee Airman celebrates 100th birthday

Tuskegee Airman fighter pilot Lt. Col. James Harvey shares the group's triumphs and their now-recognized place in history.
Centenarian hero: Tuskegee Airman celebrates 100th birthday
Posted at 2:57 PM, Jul 13, 2023

Wearing each medal with pride, 100-year-old Lt. Col. James Harvey has seen the world from a vantage point few have experienced.

"I never questioned it. I knew what I was capable of, and we knew what we were capable of," Harvey told Scripps News.

Harvey is a Tuskegee Airman fighter pilot, a group known for its red-tailed aircrafts and distinguished red jackets. He's one of a handful known to be living today.

"Each one of us wanted to be the best," Harvey recalled.

Laser-focused on being a fighter pilot at a time where it wasn't even an option for a Black man, Harvey jumped at the opportunity when it arose.

The training was tough, but the airmen were tougher.

Despite the obstacles, the Red Tails would go on to down more than 100 enemy aircraft in World War II — their success contributing to the eventual desegregation of the military.

In 1949 Harvey and his fellow airmen took those skills to the first Top Gun competitions and won their category, despite their outdated aircraft. In 2022, the military recognized that victory.

"Finally, almost 73 years later, because in the books we were listed as unknown," Harvey said. "The winner was listed as unknown, but we knew who won."

Harvey went on to become the first African American U.S. Air Force fighter pilot in the Korean War, completing more than 120 missions. When asked if he was ever afraid, Harvey said no.

"If you're a fighter pilot you can never feel afraid. You better stay on the ground," he said with a grin on his face.

The proud father is celebrating 100 years of life with the people he loves, including his daughters Alysyn Harvey-Green and Kathy Harvey.

"We grew up with him as being our dad. So when people get excited — 'Your dad's a war hero!' — and I'm like … he's my dad," Harvey-Green said with a laugh.

Traveling the country and telling his story, his family, including son-in-law Ron Green, are working to make sure Harvey's legacy and that of those who donned the famous red jacket lives on.

You can find Green handing out pamphlets and giving tours of his basement, which is set up as a tribute to dad.

"If you've met one Tuskegee Airman, you've met them all," Green said. "They all have this certain air about themselves and about what they've been through, what they do today, and what they want most people to remember by. For me that's important."

Harvey is taking it all in stride, spreading that same message of determination that took him to unimaginable heights.

"Let's do our best," he said. "That's all we can do."

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