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Soaring to Glory by Harry Stewart

Gary Pinkerton talks to retired Lieutenant Colonel Harry Stewart, former Tuskegee Airman



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Gary Pinkerton hosts former Tuskegee Airman, Lieutenant Colonel Harry Stewart. Harry gives us insight into his career and discusses what it was like to be in the service as a black man during World War II. He commemorates past airmen and talks about the 12 remaining Airmen that are still alive today.

Announcer 0:04
Welcome to the heroic investing show. As first responders we risk our lives every day our financial security is under attack. Our pensions are in a state of emergency. A single on duty incident can alter or erase our earning potential instantly and forever. We are the heroes of society. We are self reliant and we need to take care of our own financial future. The heroic investing show is our toolkit of business and investing tactics on our mission to financial freedom.

Gary Pinkerton 0:39
Welcome to the heroic investing show, a podcast for first responders, members, the military, veterans, and anyone looking to improve their financial future and gain some freedom with their time. We teach America’s heroes how to build passive income, build their startup business and safely grow wealth through real estate and other alternative investments. We have current and prior First Responders put protections systems and a team in place to help them build a life where they can focus on their passion, that service or product that they’re uniquely gifted to share with others, making the world a better place for all of us. My name is Gary Pinkerton and I co host this show with Jason Hartman. This is Episode 198. My guest today is a world war two veteran that’s right my second world war two veteran to come on heroic investing show. It is just incredible to have experienced the energy the fire the vitality, the optimism that I saw in Harry Stewart. Harry was a member of the Tuskegee Airmen, the famous African American pilots that manned the red tail Squadron in Europe in World War Two. While still a teenager growing up in New York City, Harry Stewart junior enlisted in the war effort and join the legendary ranks of the test. giggy airman, he earned his wings and commission in 1943. But his youth did not hinder his ability to become one of the most famous of the Tuskegee Airman pilots of world war two and beyond. I am just blessed to have gone through this conversation and done this interview with Harry. He’s an amazing guy. His stories are quite impressive. And we actually videoed this interview and hopefully I’ll get it up on YouTube, or get it up maybe on Facebook here in the near future. He’s just a great guy to listen to. And I think he’s extremely inspiring. We’re not going to get an opportunity to talk to too many more World War Two veterans, certainly that had the courage to face an incredibly uphill battle, which was being an African American pilot in World War Two. And he also talks about the challenges from just man in a squadron where the requirements were that you were African American and that they didn’t have the backfill that everybody else did. So they flew back back to back to back missions. And they stayed over there in Europe a lot longer than normally we were putting pilots through so incredible American heroes. I was blown away. So hope you enjoy this episode with Harry Stewart. The audience just loves to hear stories and lessons you’ve learned about life. tell your story if you’re okay with that,

Harry Stewart 3:19
the story just let me say that the book is both inspirational. And that’s the story of my life doing the world war two and the experiences I had and historical how the Tuskegee Airmen that was the African American pilots got to be in the trial set they had to go through in order to establish themselves. As far as I’m concerned. I was born in Newport News, Virginia, but my folks moved to New York City when I was about two years old, in the borough of Queens and near an airport called North Beach airport, which is now LaGuardia Airport. And I guess that’s where my interest in aviation started. I used to see the old 1930 vintage aircraft flying around and I said I want to do that I want to be a pilot, you know what I wanted to fly and that type of thing. So I guess any aviation magazines, any of the aviation clubs or anything like that, that were prevalent at the time I joined, became part of and as fate would have, it is World War Two was about the start. But I learned horror story there that the Air Corps did not accept African American. So training as pilot training in their claim was that they did not have a segregated base that they could train the pilots on. But with the activity of the various newspapers, the politicians, all that sort of thing. The airport relented and they said, Yes, we will go ahead and train Africa. An American boy is his pilot, but it would have to be on a segregated basis. So that’s how Tuskegee Army Airfield was built in Tuskegee, Alabama, and that was just about 10 miles away from the Booker T. Washington College that was down there, Tuskegee Institute or Tuskegee college there. So it did. I think it was a good choice as far as the location was concerned. I had heard about this and read about the forming of a all black fighter squadron called the 99 pursuit sergeant. And I immediately at 17 years old, were down to the registration recruiting office and said, I want to join the 99 Pursuit Squadron. Well, those guys never heard of the 99. They said, well, you’ll just be sent wherever we send you. That’s where you go. But anyway, they let me take the examination. For the Cadet Corps, and I passed it. And being 17. At the time there, I couldn’t go in until after 18. So, so happens that that went into the service at 18. And at the same day that I would have been drafted or conscripted into the army, I was sent down to keesler field, Mississippi just for six months indoctrination. And then I was sent up to the base where I was going to be finally, how is that and that was Tuskegee Army Airfield. So I went through the regular curriculum that they had there, or let me say, first, I went through six months of college training at Tuskegee Institute on the campus, so I lived on the campus for six months. Then I was sent over to the airbase, which is about 10 miles away and started the 10 months of pilot training. At the end of which time I got my wings and got my second lieutenants bars. I was all of 19 years old and didn’t didn’t know how to drive a car yet. And being from New York, he didn’t need a clog the system and that type of thing. So that wasn’t unique for a New Yorker, but it could be unique for somebody in other parts of the country. And then, after some further training and fighter aircraft, the P 40. Walk, which is like the Flying Tigers with that Tiger face of it and the P 47. called the thunder balls that were sent overseas to join the 330 second fighter group called the red kales called Red Tails because that’s what the the Red Tails they’re

Gary Pinkerton 7:41
beautiful airplanes.

Harry Stewart 7:43
Yes, that’s right, the P 51. Mustang and flew 43 missions over the air and came back home flew the P 47. was involved with a number of events that took place between then in 1950 And then I got discharged in 1950. I decided to go back and get my college education. So I went to New York University got a degree in mechanical engineering. And at that time, I decided to move up the corporate route as far as my vocation was concerned and then retired about 19 in late 1980, and after I retired, I decided to take up some phases of flying again during the time I was going to school and working I was doing any flying but I got an additional notation on my licenses, the commercial pilot in gliders. I just used that to go ahead and take up some your local kids and take them up on the weekends and show them what it was like to fly hoping that it might inspire them to go ahead and seek vocation in the aeronautics field and I was flying. Let’s see, I got my license at one. I was flying from 81 until I was about eight. And then I decided, well the solo flying was doing was enough there. So I still fly a little bit. And it was just, I guess last year I was up in a dual seater p 51. It was a modified p 51. But they had two tandem seats in there and they had a dual set of controls. So I had chance to go up and do a foil few slow rolls and loops and all that sort of things. And I’m having a lot of fun. In my old age. I’ll be 95 on July 4, so I’m getting there.

Gary Pinkerton 9:42
Well, yeah, audience can’t see this, but I would have pegged you at about 80 not 95 maybe even 80 Yeah, I’ve seen people younger than at the look look definitely worse than you do. Oh my gosh, that what what an incredible history I’ve had the the true pleasure now of interviewing now three World War Two Veterans and a Korean War veteran on this show, and it is just humbling to hear your stories. Hear that you retired from two full careers in 1980. And all the amazing stuff that you’ve done since then. You left the military in 1950 as a lieutenant colonel,

Harry Stewart 10:16
no, I left as a captain. Okay. I stayed in the reserves, okay. And worked my way up in the reserves took the, you know, two weeks training and one of the airfields per year and did some of the things that in end points towards retirement? Yeah. Retired at age 60.

Gary Pinkerton 10:38
Nice. And are you? Are you still in the New York area?

Harry Stewart 10:42
No, no, I’m here in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, Michigan. Yeah, my last job. My last job brought me to Michigan. I was with a international pipeline company. Engineering engineer was done and when retirement came along, I kind of liked the Michigan here and I said, I think that the pace that the New Yorkers keep is a little too much for me. I like more of a sedentary life. So here I am, I decided to retire here in Michigan, about 20 miles north of Detroit.

Gary Pinkerton 11:15
Wow. Well, thanks. Thanks for that. My sister lives in Detroit. And there’s been some challenges in the world, the industry there and right. Sure. One of the things that I mean cash you did you said 43 missions? Yes. How was that compared to people who are around you in your Squadron? Was that a lot? Was it a few? You know, I know that attrition was pretty rough there.

Harry Stewart 11:35
Yeah. In the 15th, Air Force, the fighter groups there. The 50 missions as a standard then they look at it from an actuarial standpoint, you know, is how far can you feel as though the life expectancy with your Will you know, with the number of missions you Take, for instance, the bombers are a lot more fun hon. So there’s was 35 missions, and they go home. So with the fighters It was 50 missions, but because of the problems that we had with the desegregation, and the only replacements that we would get would be from Tuskegee itself, is that our commander asked us if we would stay on for 70 missions, which we took as his wish was our command. So that was it. So some of the guys actually got 70 missions in but the war ended when I had my 43rd mission.

Gary Pinkerton 12:32
Got it so you did a lot of missions in Germany I’m guessing they probably a large focus

Harry Stewart 12:38
a lot of in Central Europe, Germany, Austria in general all around that area. A few in France and but mostly in Germany and Austria.

Gary Pinkerton 12:48
We are purpose was escorting protecting the bombers.

Harry Stewart 12:51
Absolutely. That was our primary job was Bhama. escort them to ward off enemy fighters that might come in to try to knock The bombers day. That was the primary mission. Wow,

Gary Pinkerton 13:03
gosh. So you were you’re in there in the thick of it and your survival actuarial tables were better only really because you weren’t flying a big old heavy pig. I guess it was harder to hit. That’s right. Wow. Any specific mission or events that that you like to talk about or that you think would be most interesting?

Harry Stewart 13:22
Well, I yes. The one that sometimes I’m often often asked to talk about is the forgetting whether it was it was a 30 some missions that are going on, but it was a bomber escort to wells, Austria, that was near the end of the war there and the fighter groups at that time, were given permission. If the bombers they felt as though the Obamas felt as though they were in a safe zone. And they could get home okay, without the fighters there, that the fight is could stay hang around and do what’s known as hunt for Our targets of opportunity targets and opportunity being any type of interdiction as far as barge traffic is concerned on the rivers or railroads or moving vehicles on the ground and boss, enemy aircraft also, the mission that I was on that I’m thinking about was April 1 1945. And we were released by the bombers the bombers said you were okay. You can go on your own now. So we decided to go on targets of opportunity and what we call a fighter suite. And we ran into a horse horde of German fighters, they will fuck a wolf 190s. And fighting ensued there and 30 of our guys got shot down. One not so bad that he couldn’t make it back to friendly territory in Yugoslavia. Another was killed outright when he was shot down and then there was nothing by the name of Walter Manning, who bailed out, and this was over Linz, Austria. When he bailed out he was picked up by a local mob. And they took him to the local jail house where he was jailed. And the SS troops, the German troops came in, and they were ripping up the crowd with the anti sentiments against the American Birdman. And they whipped a crowd up into a frenzy and halfway three nights later, the crowd broke into the jail and took Walter out and they beat them up pretty badly. But the worst thing is that they held them from a lamppost, they lynched our boy. Wow. Right. This was not that unique. I mean, it happened to a lot of our guys and you can understand the byline was with the bombers and with the fighters, you know, if we just bombed this town, you know, and it looks like you’re going to go down and get out of the air and get as far away as possible. Let’s begin from the town because of the, you know, understandable sentiments, of course, Oculus at the time. The interesting thing about the admission I talked about is that a year ago, on April 1, I was invited over to Australia by the Australian Government. And they, they were contrite about their citizens having lynched, one of the airmen, Walter Manning there, and they decided to pay a tribute to him. And not only that, but he erected a memorial to him and they wanted to find someone who had been on that mission with them and I was on that mission with them. So they invited me over and I had chance to see the ceremony which was absolutely beautiful and I have to commend the Austrians for what they did because I thought it was a brave mood, brave move. As far as you know, moral morality of the whole thing is concerned and they they showed there can By doing this, so it’s a very nice thing.

Gary Pinkerton 17:03
I’m sure that was a very touching, very moving experience. Yes. Had you been into Europe’s between the war and then or Eastern Europe?

Harry Stewart 17:13
Yes. So not Eastern Europe, mostly Western, you know, the France and Italy. And, of course, that’s where our station naturally in Italy and in southern Italy and we flew on our missions from Italy, up into Germany and that area there and the missions were very long they were all maybe anywhere up to six and a half hours. We did make one mission to Berlin, which are 1600 miles round trip escorting the bombers, and that was took us about six and a half hours. And we’re going at the ground speed about the bombers they are which they’re going along into ground speed up our NASP grounds for you go for maybe 200 miles an hour, and we’re flying along at maybe 250 or 270 miles an hour. So actually we have to criss cross back and forth so that our grand speed matches the ground speed of the box. Yeah, the missions they were cold because we were up at 35,000 feet around that way you’re escorting the bombers and out of

Gary Pinkerton 18:29
shelling selling range, I guess right?

Harry Stewart 18:32
Yes in Shelton. Right. That’s right. Well, the Obama is really getting the big part of it, you know, the aircraft guns, we’re tracking them at the altitude that they were at, we might be 1500 feet above them, but every once in a while, one of those shows or get up around us also, you know, and it’s kind of

Gary Pinkerton 18:52
scary. Of course, of course, how many of your old Squadron mates are around Are you kind of the the senior guy or

Harry Stewart 18:59
well I’m not the senior, but I’m one of the 12. That’s left and when I say 12, that’s left. That’s of the combat pilots who were in World War Two, the Tuskegee Airmen. There are 12 living today, one out of 351 that are venture that went overseas at period other periods. Well, I’ll tell you, if you fit 351 people of normal society from that era, it would probably less than 12 of them around. You guys are tough. Guys.

Gary Pinkerton 19:30
You know, obviously everyone really appreciates incredible efforts that you did. Do you all get together frequently?

Harry Stewart 19:36
Yes, they have a annual get together that they pick in different parts of the country this year. I think it’s going to be in Las Vegas. And then you see the shirt I have on this is the Detroit chapter. And they have chapters in almost every state. So we’re and that’s when they get together for the annual convention. So this is the chapter There’s no standard, we’re gonna go to one of the chapter meetings. That’s good.

Gary Pinkerton 20:04
Wow. So we didn’t mention really how to how to get in touch for this. There is a lot out there about the Tuskegee Airmen. But before we started recording, we were talking about the book that’s really to first hand account to a viewer. It’s a biography for you. It’s almost autobiography, but somebody else an author pen. That’s a biography. That’s right. Yeah. And it’s called soaring to Gloria Tuskegee airman’s firsthand account of World War Two. And we’ve given some of those accounts, but I can’t wait to dig into this book. I love the story of the Tuskegee Airmen, the bravery, they’re not just against the bullets here, we’re going after but the kind of the American sentiment at the time, it’s, it’s pretty hard to believe for listeners in today’s audience that you had to train on a segregated base. And, you know, we know the history is there, but just imagining that that was actually normal is pretty hard to imagine. But you know, thank you for your servicer, and I know that there’s websites for Tuskegee Airmen. The book is definitely awesome. Any other thing that you think that the listeners should go check out if they’re interested in the history?

Harry Stewart 21:05
Well, as you were saying and alluded to, is that I think the book gives a lot of vignettes that they might be very interested in, you know, their lighthearted parts and in their parts that goes into quite a bit of depth, but also the author. I’d like to say that Philip handelman did a very good job as far as tracing the history of how the Tuskegee Airmen developed in the first place and some of the trials and tribulations that they had to go through in order to get established. So it’s a beautiful book from the standpoint of both those

Gary Pinkerton 21:42
items. Wonderful. Well, the Tuskegee Airmen intended to inspire young individuals out there to be bold and to go against kind of set ways. I love the organization. I love the history of it. It’s very easy to find out information about them. And again, I just love members that I have. I’ve met very blessed to have you on our show. attendant Colonel Harry Stewart, thank you so much for joining us and giving us a few minutes of your time.

Harry Stewart 22:07
It’s been a pleasure.

Gary Pinkerton 22:08
I hope you have a wonderful summer out there, Michigan.

Harry Stewart 22:11
Thank you and you do the same.

Announcer 22:15
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