BLOOMFIELD HILLS, Mich. (WLNS) — Harry Stewart Jr. was born to be a pilot.
“It seemed that is was my destiny,” said the former World War II Tuskegee Airman.
It’s a goal that started with a motto.
“I used the expression kept my eyes on the prize,” said Stewart.
It was a dream of being a fighter pilot, and one that for Stewart started as a young child laying outside watching the planes go by.
“The planes from the nearby airbase used to fly over and I used to wave, try to wave at them and try to talk to them.”
Little did he know the day would come when that dream would take off.
The start of World War II changed his life forever. At 18 he volunteered to be a pilot but as a Black man there were certain rules he had to follow.
“It had to be under a segregated training, absolutely segregated,” said Stewart.
The group of famed Black fighter pilots was known as the Tuskegee Airmen. Stewart is one of only two still living.
During his time, he flew in 43 missions and took down several enemy planes. He’s 98 years old and remembers them like they happened yesterday.
“I can say that I was fearful at the time fearful for myself. We were outnumbered by the number by the aircrafts that there were.”
Looking back at the pictures, they tell the story of a man who never gave up in battle and chased his dreams.
“Perseverance. I would say that is the greatest, as I had many times that I felt that I may not make it. I could be defeated, and I may not be able to get my wings but I persevered,” said Stewart.
It’s a lesson he wants to pass on for anyone with big dreams.
“Then go ahead and persevere with all of your mind and all of your heart.”
In the decades since the war, Stewart has received several awards, a much different tone than when he first came home.
“There was no reception, and you know all was forgotten about.”
Today he says he doesn’t carry any resentment.
“I did not harbor bitterness and I went on and kept my eyes on the prize as I said before and persevered.”
He’ll be 99 on the Fourth of July. It’s a symbolic birthday and one that shows the bravery of this man who was destined to serve his country.
“I don’t see myself as a hero. I did my duty and that was what you know, all 12 million of us that went into the service here in World War II did. We did our duty.”
A life built on a daring determination.