James H. Harvey III was one of the original members of the 332nd Fighter Group, the world famous “Tuskegee Airmen.” Harvey was born in Montclair, New Jersey, on 13 July 1923 to James and Cornelia Harvey. His family moved to Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, in 1930, and then to Nuangola Station, Pennsylvania, in 1936. The Harveys were the only African-American family in that region of Pennsylvania. Harvey excelled in high school by becoming senior class president and valedictorian. He was drafted into the Army in April 1943, where he was first introduced to prejudice and discrimination. Harvey boarded a train in Pennsylvania bound for Fort Meade and ultimately Washington, DC. After arriving in Washington, DC, he was removed from the passenger car and transferred to the last car where African-Americans had to ride. Harvey was initially assigned to the Army Air Corp Engineers but always dreamed of flying. After taking the Cadet Training Exam at Bolling Field, he was accepted for flight training at Moton Field, Alabama. He graduated from Flying School at Tuskegee Army Air Field as a second lieutenant on 16 October 1944. Following graduation, he was assigned to the 99th Fighter Squadron, Godman Field, Kentucky, where he flew the P-47.
On 11 May 1949, sufficient traction had been made politically to officially end segregation in the US military with the signing of Executive Order 9981. This ground breaking ruling came after a constant barrage of complaints, lawsuits and political pressure from African-Americans who were banned from serving in the US Army Air Corps because of their race. This ruling meant that the 99th Fighter Squadron would be disbanded and its members integrated fully into operational squadrons. In a final exhibition of excellence, the men of the 332nd Fighter Group selected three primary members to participate in the first ever USAF Weapons Meet at Nellis Air Force Base. The team from the 332nd placed first, winning the meet flying F-47Ns against other more advanced aircraft. However, the men were not fully recognized for their accomplishment until 1995, when the US Air Force archives were updated officially documenting their victory.
Harvey gained combat experience in the Korean War. He was the military’s first black jet fighter pilot to fly in Korean airspace. On 16 October 1950, he led an element of four F-80s in close support to a bomber mission under adverse weather to attack enemy troops three miles north of Yongsan, Korea. Flying with a low ceiling of 800 feet, Captain Harvey’s flight found the enemy encampment and immediately inflicted heavy damage. For this engagement he was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross along with multiple Air Medals. In all, Lieutenant Colonel Harvey would net eleven Air Medals in his Air Force career due to his many engagements with adversary forces. After the Korean War, he was assigned to various stations as a flight commander, test pilot, assistant group operations officer, flight safety officer, and Battle Staff Training Officer for the Commanding General of NORAD. During his career he flew the PT-19, BT-13, AT-6, P-40, P-47, P-51, F-80, T-33, F-89, F-94, and F-102. Lieutenant Colonel Harvey retired on 31 May 1965, after twenty-two years of service. He currently resides in Denver, Colorado, and is active in Tuskegee Airman International traveling with his maintenance crew chief Master Sergeant Buford Johnson.