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Tuskegee Airman overwhelmed by support in return to Northeast Pennsylvania

U.S. Air Force retired Lt. Col. James Harvey wears a hat stating "1st Top Gun, P-47, Winner 1949" on Aug. 1, 2012, at the Las Vegas Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas. He wears the hat to educate and remind others of how the 332nd Fighter Group excelled through the hard times of military segregation.

VERNON YOUNG/U.S. AIR FORCE

By BOB KALINOWSKI | The Citizens' Voice (Wilkes-Barre, Pa.) | Published: May 8, 2019

(Tribune News Service) —  Retired Lt. Col. James Harvey wants to thank Northeast Pennsylvania for the overwhelming amount of love and support he’s gotten during his homecoming tour the past few days.

“Just like a rock star. The reception was fantastic. Never had anything like it before in my life. I appreciate it. It was very good,” the 95-year-old said.

Harvey, one of the famous Tuskegee Airmen who grew up in Wilkes-Barre and Rice Township., was paraded through Mountain Top on Tuesday with a police, fire and motorcycle escort to the Mountain Top American Legion for an event honoring him.

It was his final full day in the region since arriving on Saturday as a guest of the community organization Mountain Top on a Move. After visiting his parents’ final resting place this morning in Oak Lawn Cemetery in Hanover Twp., he will fly back to Colorado.

“This is special. He wanted to come home and that’s what he did. He’s been wanting to do this and waiting for this,” said Harvey’s son-in-law Ron Green, who accompanied him on the trip. “This is over the top. Over the top in Mountain Top. I call it full circle.”

Fairview Twp. police Officer Kevin Stahley, a self described World War II buff, told Harvey it was an honor lead Harvey’s procession through Mountain Top.

“Anytime you want an escort we’ll give you one,” Stahley said.

Harvey, an African-American, has often said he never knew of racism or segregation while growing up in Luzerne County, first learning of bias and prejudice when he was drafted into the segregated military. He and other black draftees dreamed of flying in the military, but were told it was impossible because of their race.

To appease lawsuit threats, they were later grouped in an all-black outfit in Tuskegee, Alabama. They were held to incredibly high standards because of their race, making them elite, Harvey said.

He was among a Tuskegee Airmen team that won the Air Force’s first ever “Top Gun” competition, an achievement that helped lead to the desegregation of the military.

“Welcome to your home, Mountain Top,” said Martine Columbo, commander of the Mountain Top American Legion, Post 781, as she greeted Harvey upon his arrival Tuesday.

The Mountain Top Historical Society then presented him with a photo of his graduation class of 1942 from Fairview High School. Harvey was class president and valedictorian.

Justin Behrens, chaplain of Mountain Top American Legion Post 781, addressed the crowd by telling them, “We are all here today to pay tribute to an American hero.”

©2019 The Citizens' Voice (Wilkes-Barre, Pa.)

Visit The Citizens' Voice (Wilkes-Barre, Pa.) at citizensvoice.com

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