Harry Stewart Part 2

After the war ended, Harry stayed in what was now the United States Army Air Force. Most of the pilots and ground crew from the 332nd, realizing that there wasn’t much opportunity outside of the USAF, had decided to stay in. They were now flying the P-47N Thunderbolt.

On September 18, 1947, the US Air Force separated from the US Army to become its own branch of the military. President Truman had signed an order to integrate the armed services, but things were slow to change.

Harry, along with quite a few of his fellow Tuskegee Airmen, were still in the service and were still flying their trusty P-47Ns. Because few of them were leaving, there hadn’t been much room for advancement in the ranks.

In 1949, the USAF decided to have its first gunnery meet since the end of the war. Each fighter squadron in the USAF sent three airplanes, pilots and ground crew and one alternate plane, pilot and ground crew to Nellis Air Force base for the competition. In the end, Harry and the two other pilots, James Harvey and Alva Temple won the competition with Harry having a perfect score!

This apparently shook up the US Air Force. The trophy was promptly misplaced and there was very little PR sent out about the event. The order came to inactivate the group and scatter the pilots and ground crews throughout the Air Force. What seemed like a setback for the Tuskegee pilots and ground crews, turned into a blessing. They were all very good at what they had been doing and were now given jets to fly! They shot up in rank very quickly.

Harry Stewart retired from the United States Air Force with the rank of Lt. Col.

This photo of Harry Stewart is from about the same time that he participated in the 1949 gunnery meet.

Harry Stewart Part 1

During one of my visits with Bob Friend, he asked if I had been introduced to Harry Stewart, Bob’s brother-in-law? I told him that I hadn’t, so he promptly called Harry and introduced us. It wasn’t long before I paid a visit to Harry in his house in Bloomfield Hills, MI. I quickly found Harry to be a delightful individual and full of life. I will tell his story in 2 parts, this is part 1.

At 18 years old, Stewart volunteered for the U.S. Army Air Corps, taking and passing the Pilot Cadet exam. On June 27, 1944, Stewart completed cadet pilot training, receiving his wings and graduating in the Tuskegee Airmen Class 44-F-SE. Stewart learned to fly before he learned how to drive an automobile.

Easter Sunday, April 1, 1945, turned into a big day for Harry, but almost at the cost of his life.

His squadron had been protecting B-24 bombers during a mission to Linz, Austria. The bombers were now in the clear and the fighters were released to do “Fighter Sweeps” looking for targets of opportunity. Harry spotted three airplanes in the distance directly ahead of him and flying in the same direction he was. They were Focke Wulf 190s! As he closed in behind them, he was surprised that they didn’t notice him. When he came into range, he fired at one of them and it burst into flames. Before the Luftwaffe pilots could react, Harry had shot up the second one, now also in a flaming nose dive. Harry looked for the third one. It wasn’t in sight anywhere. Just as he thought it had escaped, tracers started flashing by his airplane. It was right behind him! He dove frantically trying to lose the enemy fighter, but no luck. He was expecting to be shot at any moment and was now right on the deck, zigzagging between trees just trying to survive. Tracers were still flashing by him, then they suddenly stopped. Harry got up the nerve to look behind him and saw flaming FW 190 parts flying through the air. The 190 had flown into the ground.

Because he had caused the Focke Wulf to crash, he was given credit for it along with the other two.

For this feat, he was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross. In all, Stewart completed 43 combat missions in the European Theater.

A photo of Harry Stewart in his WWII-era US Army Air Forces uniform.
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