FLYING Magazine

Retired U.S. Air Force lieutenant colonel James H. Harvey III, 100, boasts many military honors to his name. Harvey was one of the first African American fighter pilots with the Tuskegee Airmen, the famous World War II military aviators who opened doors for Black pilots in the U.S. 

He was the military’s first Black fighter jet pilot to fly in Korean airspace, according to the Air Force. In 1949, Harvey and his fellow 332nd Fighter Group Tuskegee Airmen were also the winners of the original Top Gunnery Meet at what was Las Vegas Air Force Base.

READ MORE: How LaGuardia Airport Inspired a Tuskegee Airman to Dream of Flight

On Saturday, Harvey gained one additional accolade to his military career that spanned more than two decades when he received an honorary promotion to colonel. 

During the event at halftime of the Air Force-Army football game in Denver, Harvey was pinned with the rank by his daughters and niece while wearing a new service dress uniform provided by the Air & Space Forces Association. Also in attendance was Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Charles Q. Brown Jr., Senator Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), and Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall.

READ MORE: The Story of Jesse L. Brown: The Navy’s First African American Pilot

“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,” said Bennet, who initiated the promotion. “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.”

Brown, who served as the first Black Air Force chief of staff in history, credited Harvey for his own career trajectory.

“Because of his work breaking barriers, I can stand here today as the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff,” Brown said. “James, I want to thank you for your service. I want to thank you for breaking barriers, and it’s my distinct honor to promote you to colonel today.”

READ MORE: Mutiny at Freeman Army Airfield Helped Spur Military Desegregation

Following Harvey’s pinning, a P-51 Mustang, like that flown by the Tuskegee Airmen, and a P-47 Thunderbolt, like that flown from the 332nd Fighter Wing, conducted a flyover of the stadium.

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