Lieutenant Colonel (Ret.) Harry Stewart is one of the U.S. Air Force’s most decorated Tuskegee Airmen. At the age of 17, after voluntarily passing an exam designed to identify potential pilots, he enlisted in the Army Air Corps as an aviation cadet. After completing training at Tuskegee Air Field, Alabama, he went on to complete P-40 and P-47 fighter training and was then stationed overseas with the 332nd Fighter Group. The 332nd members wanted the bomber crews and enemy interceptors to know when they were on station, so they painted the tails of their aircraft bright red, earning the name “Red Tails.” On April 1, 1945, Stewart was part of eight red-tailed P-51s flying escort for B-24s en-route to St. Polten. The Red Tails shot down 12 enemy fighters that day, and Stewart personally shot down three ME-109s, earning him the Distinguished Flying Cross.
Stewart received an honorable discharge in 1950 and stayed in the Reserve, continuing to pave the way for African American aviators. “Looking back, I have many fond memories of my time in the Air Force,” Stewart said. “It’s amazing to see how we’ve all changed … for the better.”