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Lt. Col. Harry T. Stewart Jr.

Among the last surviving members of the Tuskegee Airmen, Lt. Col. Harry T. Stewart Jr. – who lives in Bloomfield Township – has a big celebration ahead when he turns 100 on July 4.

Stewart recently shared his inspirational story with students at Bloomfield Hills High School, chronicled in a book he cowrote with Philip Handleman called “Soaring to Glory: A Tuskegee Airmen’s Firsthand Account of World War II.” The book details the emotions and struggles of the first African-American pilots in the U.S. Army Air Corps through Stewart and his personal story.

His fondness for flying came early in life. “Ever since I was a small child, I had a fascination with airplanes. From the late 1920s through the 1930s, I especially wanted to be a pilot,” he said.

“My parents told me, when I was a year or two old, they put me in a crib out on the lawn. Planes would fly over and I would get very excited,” recalled Stewart, who was born in Newport News, Virginia, and moved to Queens, New York, shortly after. “As a teenager, I used to walk over to North Beach Airport (now LaGuardia) and watch the planes take off and land. I had an early interest in aviation.”

His wish would soon be granted. “Chances are, had World War II not come about, I would not have had that opportunity, but World War II did come along and they needed pilots,” Stewart said. “I was fortunate enough to pass the mental and physical examinations.”

Stewart joined the U.S. Army Air Corps and received his wings when he was 19. During World War II, he flew 43 combat missions as a fighter pilot in Europe. “I was stationed in Italy, but the missions took me to various targets, such as Germany, Austria and parts of France,” he said.

For one mission, Stewart received a Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC) for destroying three German aircraft. He is one of only four Tuskegee Airmen to have earned three aerial victories in a single day of combat.

After seven years in the Army Air Corps, Stewart later transitioned to the Air Force and remained in the service after the war until he was discharged. His memorable moments include when he and his Tuskegee Airmen teammates won the first trophy in the propeller class during the “Top Gun” fighter gunnery competition near Las Vegas, the Air Force equivalent of the Navy’s “Top Gun” school that would come later.

After the service, Stewart earned a degree in mechanical engineering from New York University. “I followed that route until retirement,” he said. His last position was for American Natural Resources Co. in Detroit, and he previously worked for General Foods and Bechtel.

After he retired, Stewart would go on to do many public speaking engagements in the U.S. and abroad. He also continued to pursue his childhood dream.

“Up until COVID came along, I was doing quite a bit of civilian flying from Coleman A. Young Airport, giving flights to youngsters in the Detroit area trying to orient them so hopefully they would find an opportunity in the commercial aviation industry as a pilot or an engineer,” he said.

Today, the retired Air Force pilot still stays active. “I just enjoy myself, reading with a bit of traveling,” said Stewart. “My health is good and I’m looking forward to my 100th birthday.”

Story: Jeanine Matlow

Photo: Mackenzie O'Brien


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