NUANGOLA -- The Tuskegee Airmen were the first African-American military aviators in American history and only recently have they been recognized for their bravery and accomplishments in World War II.
The group’s work was commemorated in the 2012 movie “Red Tails” that described some of the fighter group’s combat planes.
Very few know that one of the living Tuskegee Airmen grew up in Luzerne County.
Lt. Col. James Harvey is just turning 94. The Luzerne County native now enjoys the recognition given to him and other Tuskegee Airmen.
"It's nice to be recognized as the best of the Army Air Corps, and the best in the United States Air Force," said Harvey.
But he's never been recognized in Luzerne County where his family came seeking work during the Great Depression.
Harvey spent his teenage years in Nuangola Station, in the Mountain Top area. The community was named for a busy train stop, and only a concrete slab of that station remains.
He grew up as part of the only African-American family in this community in southern Luzerne County. In his memoirs, Harvey said, "I was treated like everyone else. There was not any prejudice whatsoever."
His friends elected Harvey senior class president at his high school in Mountain Top.
But after graduation, race mattered.
Harvey was drafted in 1943 and sent to Alabama, where the Army Air Corps developed an all-black flying unit that came to be known as the Tuskegee Airmen.
"During that period of time, Tuskegee, Alabama was the worst place in the country, as far as Negroes are concerned. It was sport to go out on a Saturday night, pick up a young black man, beat him, castrate him, hang him."
Harvey says he encountered subtle racism in the military.
The Army Air Corps, like the American south, remained largely segregated. All military pilots were white.
"They said we didn't have the ability to fly aircraft or operate heavy machinery. We were inferior to the white man, we were nothing."
Nothing perhaps, until the military dispatched the Tuskegee Airmen to Europe at the peak of fighting in World War II.
Their planes took part in 1,579 missions, including nearly 200 when they escorted American bombers over Germany on missions that helped force Germany's surrender.
"They just kept it secret. They just didn't want it known, that we, as a race of people can do anything."
James Harvey's service is also a secret in his home county. His family moved to New Jersey during the war.
Harvey never returned to Nuangola Station. Instead, he served in the Air Force until he retired in 1965.
He's now living in Denver and looks back with pride after fighting for a country and a military that often treated African-Americans as second class citizens.
"We figured that we could make a change. If we did what we had to do show them how we were, if given a chance. That's why we wanted to fly and fly for our country. It's our country just as much as theirs," Harvey added.
*This story was edited July 25th to clarify the types, and numbers of missions flown by the Tuskegee Airmen.