SARASOTA, Fla. — Of more than 940 pilots trained at Tuskegee in Alabama, only 355 went overseas during World War II. Of those 355, only 12 are still alive.
George Hardy of Sarasota is one of them.
“In World War II, we were absolutely segregated. I don't remember hardly ever talking to a white pilot,” he said.
It was a way of life for the Tuskegee Airmen, the elite group of black military pilots trained to fly in World War II.
Hardy was one of the famed Red Tails of the 332nd Fighter group, and at 93, he is the youngest of those who remain.
“I’m the baby, [but] don’t use that term,” he joked.
For black Americans during World War II, their war was twofold. The black press rallied around a what was called the “Double V" campaign, which stood for “Double Victory” — fighting for victory abroad and for victory and racial equality at home.
“We fought, and a lot of the guys died and whatnot, then we come back, and you get off the boat and walk down, and [it’s] colored this way and whites that way. So you're back home again, see. Back to the same thing you left.”
Hardy said of the most demoralizing moments came while trying to find a home on-base for his young family in Texas.
“I found out I was No. 2 on the housing list for Carswell, and that afternoon they called and asked me, 'Are you colored?' I said ‘Yes, I am, why?' I couldn't move into base housing,” he said. “And that's the way life was in the service. I used to say the service's No. 1 goal was segregation, No. 2, winning the war.”
Hardy’s career in the military extended far beyond his days as a Tuskegee Airman. He fought in three wars and served through 1971.
“I flew in World War II. P-51. Twenty-one combat missions over Europe.”
“In Korea, I flew B-29. I flew 45 combat missions over Korea.”
“In Vietnam, I flew 70 combat missions in the 119-K."
Hardy said he originally wanted to join the Navy to follow in his older brother’s footsteps. However, blacks were only allowed to be mess attendants at that time, and his father did not approve.
“I had to overcome that,” Hardy said of the racism he faced. “Show people we can do a good job.”
“It's our country, too, and we've got to fight for it, no matter what the problems are."
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