Beyond the Red Tails: AVI-8 Sits Down with Tuskegee Airman Lt. Colonel George Hardy

Well, the thing is that I wish more opportunities were open for kids to learn to fly. 

- Lt. Colonel George Hardy 

Beyond the Red Tails: AVI-8 Sits Down with Tuskegee Airmen Lt. Colonel George Hardy
Image from Public Broadcasting Service

 - Do you mind please introducing yourself? How did you begin your journey with the Tuskegee Airmen and were you always interested from a young age 

No, I was not always interested from a young age. There were seven of us in our family. I was the second of seven, and older brother born in '23, I was born in '25. When my mother first let me go out to play, she asked him to keep an eye on me and he did. And we grew up together like that.  


The next two kids were girls, so we stayed together as a unit, until I got to high school. I loved being with him. He really looked out for me, what not. But I was skinny and underweight, I guess, but I loved going to school. And I decided I wanted to be an engineer years ago. My father encouraged that. And that was my life up until World War II started. 


And I was just a good student. I never pictured myself as being in the military for anything, I was so skinny most of the time. But then World War II started in '39, September. And we weren't involved, but Germany invaded Poland and England and France declared war on Germany and Russia was involved also on the German side. And we weren't involved in '39 or '40, but we were to the extent that England was kicked off the continent in 1940 by the Germans and they defeated France, so Germany controlled the continent. continent. England had to depend on us as a lifeline. So convoys across the Atlantic got us involved, because we would escort the ships to a certain point, then English convoy would pick them up the rest of the way. So we were involved with the German side, but we were not at war actually with Germany. And I never thought about the military at all, until '41, my brother, older brother, suddenly he and two of his friends, without telling my father, joined the Navy.  

And I remember they used to talk about it, having a girl in every port and things like that, and the Navy, that was their life, but the Navy was originally segregated, and colored as Afro -American, and we were, and the Navy was very segregated, and Afro -Americans could only join as mess attendants, dealing with food and whatnot, and I made my brother cook on a destroyer in the North Atlantic, in the USS Dallas, whatnot. But I wanted to be with him, and that's when I first started thinking about the military, was after he joined the service. And when I turned 17, I graduated high school in '42, first thing I asked my father was, but he signed for me to go into the Navy, so I could be with Bourbon, my brother, and he said, "No, but let's talk about it." By the time he finished talking about it, I realized racial problems was too much to fight the Navy, so I decided, "Okay, we'll put it aside, and I'll wait until I'm turned 18." And that was it. But in '43, the military put out word, if you were 17 and a high school graduate, you can take an aviation cadet exam, which I took on St. Patrick's Day in March of '43. I passed it for the Army. I was still 17, but they swore me in as a private and said, as soon as you turn 18, you'll get orders to go to be a pilot. 


See, that was the first time I thought about that. I'd never even driven an automobile up until that point, you'd think. My family never had a car. We used public transportation, so. But anyway, in July of '43, I entered service and went through basic training until the end of August '43. Then the Tuskegee Institute college training detachment there for five months to go to college courses dealing with aviation, but they cut that short and the end of December '43. I went to Tuskegee Army Airfield class 44H pilot training. In September '44, I graduated with my wings as a pilot and my commission as a second lieutenant. I'm now a pilot in the military and that still had never driven an automobile. I flew the P -47 and the P -40 and the P -47, preparing to go overseas. In December '44, for the first time, I drove an automobile from the flight line back to the barracks. People said, "George has never driven a car, so I did drive a car." I went overseas and flew in Europe. P -51 Mustang, there's a picture back here, I don't know whether you can see it there, but A -33, which a beautiful P -51, I flew most of my missions in that, 21 combat missions.  


I was still 19 years of age and that was my introduction to flying. It was just a marvelous opening for me, great opportunities to present it to me and I took advantage of it.  

Well, my point was, you have instructors, listen to your instructors and follow what they say and you should make it okay.  

 -To get you to the point where you're able to fly before you drove, I mean, that's quite incredible. Were you as good as you were in a car, as you were in an aircraft?

Full military career, flying. And I only had one accident in my whole career and that was in December '44, flying to P -47. And that was during training, but I tried to forget about that as best I could. But, you know, that accident happened in December '44, at landing and the plane kept flying pulling to the right, pulling to the right on landing. And finally, as I slowed down, the nose went down and hit the ground and it went off P -47 and dug into the dirt on the side and rolled and bounced back on its wheels and bounced back on the runway. 


The wheels and the nose on the tail in the air. And I didn't know what the hell happened. Excuse the expression. But one thing you can see was the right wheel apparently was never turning. You see a trail of rubber rubbing off of the wheel as it went to the right. The left wheel, no trail at all, but the right wheel, that was in 1944. 


I walked away from that accident and no one said much to me about it afterwards. It wasn't until about 20, 10, 29. I was at Maxwell Field doing research and someone walked up to me and threw this on the desk and said you didn't tell me about that, did you? What are you talking about? It was my accident in 1944. 


For the first time and I found out that they disciplined the staff sergeant. He overhauled that right wheel the day before and when he put it back together he left out a spring about the size of my thumb that held two pieces together at the top, but he left the spring out so they were able to hit the bottom and lock the wheel. That's the first time I heard about what was the cause of the accident But I went through a whole career without any accidents other than that. I flew in World War II career and I had a whole other career. I love flying.  

 -When you're in service, I know you touched upon this already, is there anything that you'd like to share with our audience that you'd like pass down to any of the others who are inspired by the storyline you have and what the TAI are doing?

Well, the thing is I always going into something new always listen to the instructors because they know what's what. They give experience, maybe you don't follow it exactly, but at least it's the path to go in and you follow that direction whatnot. And I've been successful doing that everything I've done. I've come out on top and all my missions and everything like that. I always came back home. Although I did have a bitter experience. One mission in Korea. I had a new commander who when the war started, he wouldn't speak to me. He just came on board. That was that was my first assignment racial integration took place. Went to the 19 bomb group on Guam and then a Korean was started shortly after started to in June 50 after that. And we were on Guam and when the war started we moved to Okinawa and my crew, I was put on a combat crew by then, with the 19 bomb group 28 bomb squadron, and flew a first mission on the 30th of June 1950 over Korea. And then on the 7th of 12th of July, the 7th mission was scheduled to fly us seven mission over Korea and I as a copilot get in the airplane and pre -flight inside the airplane with the crew chief. But the flight engineer behind me, he sits, his screen is behind him, and the aircraft commander doesn't walk around outside everything. 


I'd finished my pre -flight inside once I heard a voice already get down out of the airplane and looked out as my squadron commander. I started talking to him and he just walked away from me. He had only been a commander for about a month anyway. But he pulled me off the airplane and before I know it, he replaced me on that mission. I'm surprised that even the pilot that he replaced me, pulled me off the airplane. 


It so happened that I was the first B -29 shot down over career, and the crew had to bail out over career. And a couple were captured by the North Koreans and whatnot. And where am I? I'm back on Okinawa because someone replaced me on that mission. And I just wanted to avoid my missions. That's the only one I was pulled off of when the plane was lost. 


I don't know whether that means anything or what, but it so happened. And some people say, "Well, he saved you." But the aircraft commander, when he came back, his voice was, "If you'd been there, I don't think it would have happened." But I didn't get to talk to him about what he meant by that. But anyway, it was one of those things. Oh, wow. He wouldn't put me back on the crew until he left about two weeks later. 


He became a deputy group commander. And the new squadron commander put me back on flying again. And I got to fly 54 or 45 combat missions in B -29s over Korea. So, wow. And then returned to the states on crew replacement. But one thing that I'll say is that that was in 1950. 


After that, I went to Limestone, Maine for a few years. Then went to Institute of Technology 55 to 57. And got a bachelor's in science and electrical engineering. Then went to Japan for three wonderful years. 

Then in 1960, I went to Platsburg Air Force Base in New York. I became a maintenance squadron commander up there. And who's my wing commander? That same officer who pulled me off the airplane. I worked for him for over two and a half years up there. 

And that was one of the best assignments I had worked for him the second time. He thought I was the greatest guy going. And yet, I had experience back in the Korean War, where racial problem was a problem for me. 

But then I worked for him 10 years later and I loved working for him the second time. It's amazing how life can change like that.  

 - In your experiences over the years, what's your most memorable experience that you would be happy to share?

One thing I talked to kids about is opportunities within the military. 

I went in out of high school and I got out in '46 and went to NYU for one year. But I was recalled active duty in '48. And growing up, I always wanted to be an engineer. I did go to Armored Maintenance School for 50 weeks in the service. I learned electronics. You remember in World War II, radar was a new feature. And so I got it on the ground for electronics and became an electronics maintenance office. Later I got in the sack and they put me in armament and electronics. Armament also, turrets and guns and bomb bays. Because they had Armored Electronics Maintenance Squadrons. And I became an Armored Electronics Maintenance Officer, Armored Electronics Maintenance Squadron Commander. 


But in the service, in '55, '57, '55, I went to the Institute of Air Force Institute of Technology at Wright -Patterson Air Force Base, a fully accredited university run by the Air Force, Army, Navy, and Air Force officers who can go down. And I graduated in '57 with a Bachelor of Science in Electrical Engineering. And so I had my electrical engineering degree. 

And then I graduated in '57 and went to Japan for three years, then went to Platsburg, New York to work under that other squadron commander for two and a half years. 

And '62, just after the Cuban Missile Crisis, things had settled down up there. I got a letter from the Institute of Technology. I won't go through the details, but in essence, they invited me back to go to graduate level school and graduate level, reliably engineering training, 19 months. 

And so who did I talk to was my wing commander, that officer who pulled me off the airplane to let him know what I had. He thought it was a good opportunity. So I went to the Institute of Technology in February of '63 and graduated in '64 with a Master of Science in Systems Engineering, dashed reliability.  


Now here I'm a high school kid when I first joined the service. And now some years later, I have a bachelor's and a master's in the service and fully accredited university. 

You can't beat that for opportunities and whatnot. And when I retired from the service in '71, GTE Corporation offered me a job right away because of my both engineering degrees. 


I worked for them for 18 years. So I will say to kids, the opportunities were given to me, that is, they were there. But I looked around to find them and took advantage of them. And to me, I consider myself a success story. I, school kid who goes into service and ends up at the two engineering degrees, you can't beat that. And when I think about the people who have college debt and whatnot, and I had no college debt, talk about.  

 - What's the most highlight to that experience when you joined?

Well, the thing is that the change in feelings about people of my race, Afro -Americans and whatnot. It wasn't until 1941 that the Army started opening the door for us to be pilots and whatnot. 


And we walked through the door and had a great opportunity, and we took advantage of it. But then we had someone like Colonel Davis, who was our commander. He was a West pointer. And when 15th Air Force selected us to help, they were losing too many bombers, they needed more fighters. The 332nd was picked as one of the groups to come escort the P -51s. 

But Davis was a little different from some of the wing commanders. He said, "You're here to escort the bombers and 10 people on these bombers. Escort them to Target and you bring them back." 


Now, we had a lot of groups over there doing that. But when they were attacked by German airplanes, some of the fighters could be drawn off. They go after a German airplane, a German airplane leaves, and they follow it and finally shoot it down and make the 100 miles away by now, say. And now the bombers don't have as many fighters as other German airplanes come in and shoot them down. 


Colonel Davis said, "Don't leave the bombers. If you go after the enemy fighter and he leaves, you let him go and you come back and stick with the bombers." Ten men on a bomber, only one person in that airplane. And that's what we did. He said, "You may go and shoot that guy down. I'll give you a medal for that, but I'm a court nurse for you for leaving the bombers." And so we stayed with the bombers. 


And the bombers began to realize that. And some of the bomber groups like to have the red tails out there because the red tails would always stick with them. Davis said that so. And you find that, I don't know, it's just, I've talked to some of the guys in bomber groups and they remembered that the red tails would always stick with the bombers. And the bombers appreciated that. 


Davis was tough, but I love working for him. You knew where you stood.  

 - I think one of the last things I'll ask you to wrap up this was, do you have anything to share about the importance of the Tuskegee Airmen Incorporated and what they're doing for people today, such as youths throughout the United States? Is there anything you can share about that? 

Here is across the country, depending on the ability of the various chapters of what not dealt. But they like to, in some cases, give kids an opportunity to fly if possible. There's an open field for flying. We're going to need pilots for a long time in the future, forever. We'll need pilots. And someone's got to come along and take up the slack. And so where they can, they give opportunities to kids to teach them about what's available and the opportunities ahead for flying.  


Flying is such a wonder. I just love flying. And I've flown all over this country and various airplanes. And in fact, I will say one thing, that I flew in three wars and three different types of airplanes, fighters, bombers, and then then in Korean war, in Vietnam war, I flew a gunship, entirely different type of airplane. I flew 70 combat missions over there too, but I was able to adapt to each of those things because of training. You listen to the instructors and follow what they say and you come out and that's it.  


But the thing is we try to inspire kids looking forward to what are you gonna do in life, you know? And flying is an open field and the salaries are good, but it's just, it used to get a wonderful feeling to me as far as I'm concerned, getting up there and flying a month, seeing the clouds go by and whatnot and going different places and doing that. It's just a wonderful opportunity to get away from everything. 


And the fact that when I look back on the fact that I had hundreds of hours in the airplanes that had never driven an automobile, that was an unusual feeling.  

 - There's a career path, there's something out there that people can take pride in or solace in when you're out in the skies. I think that's something very important as well. Do you have anything else that you've felt would be helpful for anyone that's listening?  

Well, the thing is that I wish more opportunities were open for kids to learn to fly. There's a tremendous shortage amongst the airlines, whatnot, and looking for pilots and whatnot, tremendous opportunity out there. And it can only increase and it's just making things available for kids to learn to fly because it takes time and effort provide those facilities and whatnot to maintain them, I know that. So it takes investment on adults to provide that facility and some of our chapters are doing that and that's what I'd like.  

Beyond the Red Tails: AVI-8 Sits Down with Tuskegee Airmen Lt. Colonel George Hardy
Image from Wikipedia

 - Which is your favorite aircraft that you've flown over the years whether? 

Mother P-51 was a beautiful airplane. I thought it was just a marvelous airplane so maneuverable and whatnot. And for me who learning to fly that in a plane by myself at 19 years old flying with the experienced guys over Europe always flew as a wingman as I was new over there. But it was just so wonderful time that I had control of that multi-million-dollar airplane and time of war and went on a mission and came back each time, fired my guns several times on strafing missions. 


We were at high altitude most of the time, but if a mission weren't very long, after the bombers were safe, we would go down and go over Germany flying look for targets of opportunity, particularly railroad or trains and whatnot or barges or trucks on the road, to destroy their capability on the ground. Flying in your airplanes, your airports, if you see a German airplane you destroy it. You want to destroy all their abilities to their abilities to fight war. So that was an interesting time.  


But the P-51 was such a maneuverable, wonderful airplane. In fact, a lot of them are still flying today. However, when we flew, we had a large fuel tank right behind us in the cockpit. That tank is not there any longer. They've taken it out and put a seat in there. That's where the second seat is now.  

 - As you're saying, 19 years old piloting that aircraft and going through mission after mission, I think that's really, really a beautiful experience that you're able to share with us. 

And I thank you for everything that you've contributed and that you've shared. It's actually been an honor and a privilege for me to be able to speak to you. 

I wish you the best for everything else. And thanks again for your time.  

Thank you very much. Thank you for inviting me.