Harry T. Stewart Jr. is one of America’s most decorated Tuskegee Airmen. He was born on 24 July 1924, in Newport News, Virginia, near Langley AFB. At the age of two, Stewart’s family moved to Queens, New York, just a few minutes from North Beach Airport. His fascination for aviation began at a very young age as he watched in awe as the planes soared overhead. At the age of 17, and aware of his imminent conscription into World War II, he passed a military exam designated to identify potential pilots. As a result, he enlisted in the US Army Air Corps as an aviation cadet. After completing his flight training at Tuskegee Air Field, Alabama, and while still a teenager, he was awarded his pilot wings and was commissioned as a second lieutenant. Stewart then accomplished combat fighter training in both the P-40 Warhawk and the P-47 Thunderbolt fighter aircraft, and in 1944 was sent to Italy for combat operations. As a member of the all-black 332d Fighter Group, Stewart flew 43 combat missions in the P-51 Mustang. The 332d was an exceptional unit and wanted the bomber crews and enemy interceptors to know when they were on station. To do this, they painted the tails of their aircraft with bright red paint, which earned them the name “Red Tails.” The bomber crews began referring to them as the “Red Tail Angels” after they completed an amazing 100 escort missions with no bomber losses due to enemy fighters. On 1 April 1945, then First Lieutenant Harry T. Stewart Jr. was one of eight red-tailed P-51 pilots escorting B-24 Liberators tasked to bomb the St. Polten marshalling yard. The P-51s preceded the bombers and flew a fighter sweep of the Linz area in Austria. Flying at an altitude of 5,000 feet, the Mustang pilots spotted four German FW-190s near Wels flying in the same direction, but about 2,000 feet below. They dived to attack, but suddenly a flight of a dozen ME-109s appeared above them. A series of individual dogfights ensued, ranging from altitudes of 5,000 feet to the deck. Although the enemy pilots attempted to out-turn the more powerful P-51s and draw them over antiaircraft artillery, the Red Tails proved victorious and shot down 12 enemy aircraft, losing only three of their own. Stewart shot down three FW-190s that day, a feat that earned him the Distinguished Flying Cross. In May 1949, Stewart competed in the inaugural ten-day “William Tell” National Gunnery meet at Las Vegas AFB (now Nellis AFB) in Nevada. This meet would later become the equivalent of the US Navy’s “Top Gun” competition. Stewart was part of a three-man team representing the 332d Fighter Group. Each pilot was required to compete in five different events. The events included air-to-air gunnery at altitudes of 10,000 and 20,000 feet, rocket firing, strafing, dive-bombing, and skip-bombing. Three perfect scores were registered in the skip-bombing event and one perfect score in rocket firing. As a result, the 332d won first place in the conventional fighter class. Stewart received an honorable discharge in 1950 and stayed in the Reserves, eventually retiring as a lieutenant colonel. Stewart returned to New York where he attended evening classes at New York University’s College of Engineering, earning a Bachelor’s Degree in 1963. He eventually became Vice President of ANR Pipeline Company, a major interstate natural gas consortium, and is now retired. Stewart currently resides in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan with his wife of 64 years, Delphine. They have a daughter, Lori.
Years Honored: 2011
Aircraft/Specialty: P-51D Mustang
Escort duties for the 332d Fighter Group were a mixed bag of encounters that often involved enemy fighters, flak, mountainous obstacles of the Swiss, Italian and Austrian Alps, and numbing cold temperatures at higher altitudes. On 1 April 1945, First Lieutenant Harry T. Stewart was part of eight red-tailed P-51s flying escort for B-24s en-route to St. Polten. That day the red tails shot down 12 enemy fighters. Stewart personally shot down three ME-109s, earning him the Distinguished Flying Cross. Harry T. Stewart Jr. was part of an incredible unit that paved the way for African American aviators.