By Melissa Garcia

LAKEWOOD, Colo. (CBS4) – A Tuskegee airman celebrated his 95th birthday in Lakewood Saturday.

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Ret. Lt. Col. James H. Harvey III reflected on his inspiring life so far, surrounded by friends and family.

Arguably the most skilled aviators of World War II, the Tuskegee airmen did more than fly planes.

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In a time of segregation, the red-tail angels epitomized what it took to rise above.

“My motto is strive to be the best, regardless of what you do. Always strive to be the best. It will pay off,” Harvey told CBS4’s Melissa Garcia.

(credit: Alysyn Green)

And his hard word work, dedication, and perseverance certainly did pay off. The decorated air force veteran won “First Top Gun,” beating far superior aircraft. The group was not recognized for the accomplishment, however, until 45 years later.

Harvey’s acceptance into the Air Corps did not come without a struggle.

(credit: Alysyn Green)

“I tried to enlist in the Army Air Corps in January 1943. They said they weren’t taking enlistments at the time. That was the height of the war. What they were telling me is they didn’t want me,” Harvey said.

He went on to become the military’s first black jet fighter pilot to fly missions over Korea.

Perhaps just as important as his Army and Air Force career, Harvey became a father and taught his three children how to thrive.

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“My father has always told me, it doesn’t matter how tough life gets, you deal with life,” said Alysyn Green, Harvey’s youngest daughter.

At close to a century in age, Harvey credited two major traits for propelling him to succeed: his perfectionism and his perspective.

“Nothing bothers me,” he said. “I don’t let (anything) bother me.”

Lt. Col. James H. Harvey III (credit: Deborah Grigsby)

Through war and prejudice, the American hero has brightened the country’s horizon.

“The take away here is dream big,” said Joe Jones, a friend who considers Harvey his adopted father. “And you work your tail off and you make it happen. That’s the American can-do spirit and (the Tuskegee airmen) defined it.”

Melissa Garcia has been reporting for CBS4 News since March 2014. Find her bio here, follow her on Twitter @MelissaGarciaTV, or send your story idea to mkgarcia@cbs.com.

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