Avoca, PA (May 4, 2019) – When most of us think about “Top Gun”, we usually associate it with Tom Cruise’s character during the 1980s movie showcasing the Navy’s F-14 Tomcat exploits and over-the-top maneuvers.
But in reality, it was a Tuskegee Airman who took part and won the military’s first “Top Gun” style competition.
Born in Montclair, NJ, on July 13, 1923, to a poor but proud family, James H. Harvey III served more than 20 years in the military and would go on to become of a member of the famed Tuskegee Airmen and the first African-American pilot to fly combat missions over Korean airspace. Harvey is also one of two surviving Tuskegee Airmen who won the Air Force’s inaugural weapons meet in 1949. The other survivor is Master Sgt. Buford Johnson.
His family moved to Nuangola Station, Luzerne County, PA, in 1936, and was the only African-American family in that region. Harvey excelled in high school by becoming senior class president and valedictorian.
After being denied an enlistment in the Army Air Corps for cadet pilot training, Harvey was drafted into the Army in 1943 and boarded a train for Fort Meade, MD, where he took his physical and written examinations. Based on his written examination score, he was assigned to the Army Air Corps Engineers to be a bulldozer operator to clear areas for airfields.
“I decided this was not for me, so I applied for cadet training again,” he wrote on his website. “This time, I was accepted and reported to Bolling Field, DC, for my written test and physical examination, which I passed with flying colors. There were 10 of us taking the examination, nine Whites and myself, and only I and one White passed the examination to attend Pilot Training School.”
After passing his examination, he was accepted to attend pilot training at Tuskegee Army Air Field. While there, Harvey said he spent his primary training by alternating half his day learning to fly aircraft and the other half at the Tuskegee Institute where he and other cadets had classes in math; English; Morse Code; aircraft, ship submarine identification; and navigation.
After he graduated his primary training, he said he went on to advance training on the AT-6 aircraft until he graduated as a second lieutenant October 16, 1944.
Harvey’s first duty assignment was the 99th Fighter Squadron at Godman Field, KY. Four years later in 1949, Harvey competed in the first USAF Weapons Meet at Las Vegas Air Force Base, NV. As a first lieutenant, he, along with Capt. Alva Temple and 1st Lt. Harry Stewart, represented the 332nd Fighter Group Weapons Team where they won the competition flying their P-47N Thunderbolts. However, their victory wasn’t officially recognized until April 1995, he said.
Later that year, he was assigned to Misawa Air Base, Japan, where he served as an F-80 Shooting Star fighter pilot. Harvey would retire from the Air Force as a lieutenant colonel May 31, 1965.
He is being “welcomed home” to Northeast Pennsylvania by Mountain Top on the Move, a small civic, business and community enrichment organization, for the past 35 years. His welcome home is being hosted by the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton International Airport.
He will be visiting and meeting with various organizations while visiting Northeastern Pennsylvania.