Retired U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. George E. Hardy, one of the famous Tuskegee Airmen, appeared in Winter Haven, Fla., on Saturday, November 6, 2010. Fantasy of Flight and the Polk County Library Cooperative sponsored an inspirational event at the Winter Haven Public Library/Catherine L. Smith Memorial Library. George shared his story and responded to questions. Among the related activities was the continuous showing of the award-winning documentary Silver Wings and Civil Rights.
Mr. Hardy recalled that his initial interest in airplanes was a result of viewing newsreel footage of daring young men and their flying machines over Europe during the early phase of World War II. The Philadelphian joined the Army Air Corps at age 18 in July 1943. In December of that year he began training as an Aviation Cadet at Tuskegee Army Air Field, Alabama.
As a student George mastered the Fairchild PT–19 Cornell, Vultee BT–13 Valiant, North American AT-6 Texan and Curtiss P–40 Warhawk. He graduated as a single-engine pilot and pinned on second lieutenant bars in September 1944. George received his combat training, in Republic P-47 Thunderbolts, at Walterboro Army Air Field, South Carolina.
In February 1945, Hardy shipped out to join the 99th Fighter Squadron, 332nd Fighter Group which based at Ramitelli Air Base, Italy. During the closing months of World War II, George flew 21 escort and strafing missions in various North American P-51C and P-51D Mustangs.
Eventually Mr. hardy inherited a personal aircraft from the squadron’s operations officer. The fighter’s nickname was “Tall in the Saddle,” the letters having been painted beneath the Packard Merlin’s exhaust stacks. Affixed just abaft was a blue-clad “Varga Girl” pinup image. The swift and sturdy mount carried him safely through the conflict, although once small arms fire holed the fuselage near his feet causing George some consternation.
In August 1945, George received orders returning him to Tuskegee and eventually sending him to Lockbourne Army Air Field, Ohio, to again fly P-47 Thunderbolts. In November 1946, Hardy separated from the service and attended the New York University School of Engineering until May 1948. Upon recall in June 1948 he returned to active duty with the 301st Fighter Squadron, 332nd Fighter Group, at Lockbourne Air Force Base, Ohio. In September, George went to Keesler Air Force Base, Mississippi, to attend the Airborne Electronics Maintenance Officer’s Course. He graduated from the course in August 1949.
Complying with official directives, George joined the 28th Bombardment Squadron, 19th Bombardment Group, as a maintenance officer in September 1949. The Guam-based unit was using the Boeing B-29 Superfortess. When the Korean War started in June 1950, the 19th bomb group moved to Okinawa and started flying combat missions over Korea. At this time, one of George’s duties was being a copilot. The crew flew six combat missions over Korea.
On July 12, 1950, racial discrimination again became an obstacle when a new squadron commander refused to permit George to accompany his crewmates on a mission after their preflight briefing. A substitute replaced him before takeoff. Later that day a North Korean Yak fighter attacked the B-29, setting an engine on fire which forced the airmen to abandon the crippled plane.
One of George’s duties as second-in-command was to coordinate the aerial gunners’ defense of the aircraft. Unfortunately, he was back on Okinawa while his mates were fighting and subsequently drifting earthward under their parachute canopies. North Korean soldiers captured two of them. That aircraft was the first B-29 lost over Korea due to enemy action. Hardy nevertheless persevered to complete a total of 45 combat flights.
George went to the 6th Bombardment Wing at Walker Air Force Base, New Mexico, as directed in March 1950. That June he went to Lowry Air Force Base, Colorado, to train on Consolidated B-36 Peacemaker armament systems. This intercontinental bomber was the largest aircraft procured and maintained by the U.S.
In December 1952, the service sent him to Carswell Air Force Base, Texas, where he encountered more racism involving On-Base Family Housing. The problem ended with his transfer, in March 1953, to Loring Air Force Base in northern Maine. The change was welcome. At Loring he was a B-36 maintenance officer in the 42nd Bomb Wing.
During 1951-1962, Hardy served in various Armament and Electronics Maintenance Squadrons in the Strategic Air Command and also in Japan as Maintenance Officer and a Squadron Commander. In August 1957, he received a Bachelor of Science Degree in Electrical Engineering from the Air Force Institute of technology at Wright Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio.
George soon became a maintenance supervisor in the 3rd Bomb Wing, which was operating Martin B-57 Canberra aircraft at Johnson Air Base in Japan. This was in September 1957. In 1959, George received his aeronautical Command Pilot rating. In November 1960, he became a maintenance squadron commander in the 4108th Air Refueling Wing, which was utilizing Boeing KC-97 Stratotankers, at Plattsburg Air Force Base, New York.
In January 1963 George again attended the Air Force Institute of Technology where in August 1964 he received a Master of Science Degree in Systems Engineering-Reliability. That September Hardy went to the Electronic Systems Division of AF Systems Command at Hanscom Air Force Base, Massachusetts.
In August 1966, he became Program Manager and Chief of Engineering for the overseas portion of the Department of Defense’s first worldwide direct dial telephone system. The first sites were successfully “cutover” in Europe and Panama in June 1969, and the remaining major portions of the network attained the same status during the latter part of 1969.
With his military career now in the latter stages, George returned to the cockpit in late 1969. He became the aircraft commander of a Fairchild AC-119K Stinger gunship. In April 1970 and after additional training, the personnel center then attached him to the 18th Special Operations Squadron in the Republic of Vietnam. Additionally, superiors made him the squadron’s Operating Location Commander at the Udorn Royal Thai Air Force Base in Thailand.
The following September, Hardy became the squadron’s Operating Location Commander at Da Nang Air Base, Republic of Vietnam. The pilots’ primary task was to search out and attack enemy supply traffic through northern Laos and along the Ho Chi Minh Trail at night. George flew 70 such sorties. He departed the country in April 1971, being reassigned to the Air Force Systems Command at Andrews Air Force Base, Maryland.
Hardy began retirement in November 1971. His decorations include the Distinguished Flying Cross with Valor, the Air Medal with 11 Oak Leaf Clusters and the Commendation Medal with one Oak Leaf Cluster. George received an Honorary Degree of Doctor of Public Service from Tuskegee University in 2006. He now resides in Sarasota, Fla.
The author (John Stemple) wishes to thank George Hardy for graciously granting him an interview.