For many, it takes stirring words to command the attention of a filled auditorium, but not for Lt. Col. George Hardy. One of the last living Tuskegee Airmen, the famed African American fighter pilots of World War II, Hardy is a living legend.
His presence alone is all that it took to capture the eyes and ears of everyone in Lee Hall Auditorium Thursday morning. At 93 years old, Hardy is the youngest Tuskegee Airman alive to date.
He took the stage as the keynote speaker for the “American Legends: The Tuskegee Airmen” program, following remarks from FAMU President Larry Robinson, and Jabari Knox, chief of staff, Executive Branch of SGA.
Hardy spoke about his encounters with racism in the military, his endeavors as an engineer, and his reasons for joining the military.
“I got into the service in 1943. I graduated high school in June of 1942. I wanted to go into the service because my brother had went into the service the year before,” Hardy said.
He mentioned how during that time, the Army and the Navy were both heavily segregated. He said he was willing to endure such conditions in order to be with his brother.
“I wanted to do that because my brother and two of his friends, despite the racial problem had joined the Navy,” Hardy said. “I wanted to be with him regardless.”
After Hardy was rejected by the Navy because of his race, he was about to join the Army Air Force due to the passing of a new law.
He flew 21 combat missions during World War II and 44 combat missions in the Korean War.
Engineering and planes have always been a passion for Hardy. At one point in his career he sacrificed a promotion and took up a maintenance job instead as a means of continuing to be around airplanes.
“I decided to go into maintenance because even if I didn’t fly, I still will be around airplanes,” Hardy said.
At the end of the program many of the guests shared their appreciation for Hardy. Sandra Thompson, was able to voice how special it was to listen to someone who she had learned about throughout her life.
“Resilience and perseverance means something and at 93, we won’t necessarily have this. He is the youngest of the airmen alive, and we got to take hold of what they used, to be resilient so that we can be it because we still got stuff to do,” Thompson said.
Lakeisha Holligan, assistant director of Military and Veteran Affairs at FAMU, said it was a privilege to have Hardy come to the university.
“I am very grateful to have met the real life definition of perseverance. I only hope that I will be able to stand in his shoes, because they certainly cannot be filled,” she said.
After having the privilege of listening to six of the Tuskegee Airmen share their inspirational stories on a panel in Washington, D.C for the American Veterans conference, Holligan made it her mission to share her “surreal” experience with the rest of FAMU.
“Being a Marine veteran, I definitely came up with a plan for execution. I am very grateful to have had the support of the university and my leadership to help turn this vision into a tangible reality,” Holligan said. “My hope is that those who attended will leave inspired. That they will have a renewed confidence to keep going in that thing that they believe that they are failing in or were told they would never be good at. To follow your dreams and never give up.”