Tuskegee Airman celebrates 100th birthday by embarking on a cruise

Lt. Col. James H. Harvey III, who was among 1,007 documented pilots trained at then-Tuskegee Institute for aerial combat during World War II, set sail from Seattle to Alaska.

One of the few surviving Tuskegee Airmen recently celebrated his 100th birthday onboard a Princess Cruises ship. 

Born in Montclair, New Jersey on July 13, 1923, Lt. Col. James H. Harvey III set off on a voyage from Seattle to Alaska as part of an early commemoration of his 100th birthday, according to a Princess Cruises news release

The McChord Field Honor Guard welcomed the retired U.S. Army Air Corps and Air Force (USAF) officer and family members aboard the Discovery Princess with a USAF traditional color presentation display.

Tuskegee Airman celebrates 100th birthday by embarking on a cruise
Princess Cruises President John Padgett (center, wearing red T-shirt) and others celebrate retired Lt. Colonel James H. Harvey III (seated) with a cake on Discovery Princess to celebrate the upcoming 100th birthday of the Tuskegee Airman. (AP Images for Princess Cruises)

The festivities also included a birthday cake presentation during which hundreds of the ship’s crew wished the decorated airman a happy birthday.

Harvey also shared stories from his service as part of an onboard discussion with other guests during the celebration.

“It’s our sincere honor to celebrate the 100th birthday of Lieutenant Colonel Harvey III, a trailblazer, hero, and real ‘Top Gun,'” said John Padgett, Princess Cruises president, according to the news release. 

During World War II, Harvey and other Black pilots shattered racial barriers in the military. They were among 1,007 documented pilots trained at Tuskegee [Institute] for aerial combat as members of the 332nd Fighter Group’s 99th Squadron, famously known as the “Red Tails.” In 2006, all of the Tuskegee Airmen received Congressional Gold Medals.

Tuskegee Airman celebrates 100th birthday by embarking on a cruise
Retired Lt. Colonel James H. Harvey III (seated) appears with family members on May 21, 2023 aboard the Discovery Princess in Seattle. (Stephen Brashear/AP Images for Princess Cruises)

Harvey emerged the winner of the USAF’s first “Top Gun” competition in 1949 after he and his team beat all comers in a 10-day aerial gunnery event at 20,000 and 12,000 feet, as well as “dive bombing, skip bombing, rocketing firing and panel strafing,” the press release states.

In 1949 and 1950, Harvey would also become the USAF’s first Black jet fighter combat pilot, flying 140 missions during the Korean War.

Tuskegee Airman celebrates 100th birthday by embarking on a cruise
Members of the McChord Field Honor Guard greet retired Lt. Colonel James H. Harvey III (seated), who is one of the famed Tuskegee Airmen, with an honor cordon aboard the Discovery Princess in Seattle. (AP Images for Princess Cruises)

His service in the Army Air Corps and the Air Force spanned 22 years, from 1943-1965. He joined Oscar Mayer as a corporate salesman after he retired from the military. 

“His life and legacy should remind everyone the power of courage, determination, resilience and the American spirit,” said Padgett. 

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