EDITOR’S NOTE: Second of a two-part story.
When the Korean War broke out in June 1950 George Hardy’s World War II service was long behind him. He flew a P-51 “Mustang” in the 99th Fighter Squadron as a member of the Tuskegee Airmen, the all-black fighter group, during the Second World War.
After the war, he re-upped in 1948, joining the Air Force, which had now become a separate service. He was a captain in the 19th Bomb Group in 1950 and served as a co-pilot on a B-29 “Superfortress” flying from Okinawa, Japan. He flew 45 combat missions over Korea during the war.
“For a while I was the only person of color in the 19th Bomb Group, ” the 84-year-old Sarasota, Fla. aviator recalled. “Once the war began some blacks started coming into our unit.”
President Harry Truman integrated the U.S. Armed Forces in 1948.
“We had already flown six combat missions over Korea when our new squadron commander arrived in June 1950.
“He didn’t like me or blacks in general and he didn’t want me in his outfit. He would not speak to me except in the line of duty,” Hardy said almost 60 years later.
On one memorable day, Hardy recalled, “We were pre-flighting the airplane. I was in the co-pilot’s seat going through a checklist when I heard someone say , ‘Hardy, get down out of the airplane!’ I looked out and saw Col. Miller, our new squadron commander. He had some excuse why I couldn’t go flying that day.
“Later on that same day I was walking down to my shop on the field and ran into the colonel even tho’ I tried to avoid him. I saluted, but he didn’t return my salute. He threw his arm around my shoulder and informed me that my airplane and its crew had been shot down over North Korea. The entire crew bailed and only the bombardier was captured by the North Koreans,” Hardy said.
Eventually he got a new squadron commander who gave him his co-pilot seat back. During the missions Hardy flew in the Korean War their bomber was never threatened by the enemy.
“The only problem we had, we’d occasionally lose an engine to mechanical trouble. We lost one on a flight to Korea and had to make an emergency landing ta Kempo Air Field, outside Seoul, the capital of South Korea.
“It was freezing cold and all we had on was our summer flying suits. All they could give us were folding cots, a single blanket, and a tent to sleep in,” Hardy said. “The next day we decided we had to do something to escape the cold so we flew out with one damaged engine and three good ones. When we got back to our base in Okinawa we caught hell from our squadron and group commanders.
After that incident, however, all B-29 crews flew with cold weather gear aboard every B-29 that bombed Korea.
Hardy flew his last mission in Korea in March 1951. He became the commander of a maintenance squadron at Walker Air Force Base in new Mexico when he returned to the States. Hardy had received extensive technical training in radar repair procedures in addition to learning how to fly a B-29.
By the time the Vietnam War broke out and he was sent into battle once more he was a lieutenant colonel. He went to war for the third time in 25 years flying an AC-119 “Stinger Gunship.” This was a low-flying, slow-moving assault ship equipped with five Gatling guns, each with infrared sighting for night fighting.
“Flying at night was quite different than flying during the daytime. One of our people in the back of the plane laid with his head over the edge of the plane while being strapped in. His job was to watch for antiaircraft fire coming our way. He would tell the pilot by intercom which way to break if a shell was coming toward us,” Hardy explained.
“The AC-119 was a Rube Goldberg-designed airplane. The pilot fired the guns after sighting in the target. You’d have to get in a flying circle around the target. Once the infrared operator put the target in your guns sight the pilot would look into his gun sight and get the cross hairs superimposed on each other and then he’d fire the guns.”
The AC-119 was equipped with three 7.65 Gatling guns that could fire several thousand rounds a minute. Later on, two much larger 20 mm guns were added for additional firepower against armored equipment the North Vietnamese Army was using.
The 20 mm cannons were so heavy the Air Force added two wing-mounted jet engines in addition to the two propeller-driven engines for added power to keep the heavy plane in the air.
When he arrived in Vietnam in 1970 he was stationed at Phan Rang near the coast of South Vietnam. Because of his rank he was sent to Udom, Thailand when he was made the commander of a base used by a group of AC-119 gunships.
“We’d patrol at night around the Dietiane area of Laos. I spent four months there and then I moved to DaNang, South Vietnam where I became base commander again. We flew the Ho Chi Minh Trail at night looking for enemy trucks and equipment.”
After 70 combat missions in Vietnam during the year he was there, Hardy returned to Systems Command back in the States.
“They took me off flight status for health reasons and I decided to retire after 28 years of active duty,” Hardy said.
He and his late wife, Bonnie, moved to Sarasota where he has lived since 2003. The couple has four grown children, two boys and two girls.
This story was first published in the Charlotte Sun newspaper, Port Charlotte, Florida on Tuesday, July 21, 2009 and is republished with permission.
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