OAKLAND COUNTY, Mich. – He shot down German planes as a fighter pilot with the Tuskegee Airmen during World War II, but after the war, when Harry Stewart tried to get a job as a commercial airline pilot, he was turned down because of the color of his skin.
Decades later, that 90-year-old war hero who now lives in Oakland County is being honored in a big way.
Stewart admitted to choking up Thursday when he received his honorary captain's wings. It's no wonder, considering what happened to him in 1949: The Tuskegee Airman asked for a pilot's job, but he was turned down twice because of his race.
"I would certainly not inspire the confidence of passengers as I walked down the aisle," Stewart recalled being told.
His World War II buddies had plenty of confidence in Lt. Col. Stewart in a single day in the skies over Italy.
A few years after the war, Stewart helped his 332nd fighter group win a national Top Gun competition. He had a Distinguished Flying Cross medal, but no chance to get the job he deserved.
"I didn't say anything. I thought it would be useless," Stewart said.
Delta Airlines had nothing to do with Stewart's rejection long ago, but Thursday in Atlanta, the airline's chief pilot gave him a unique honor.
Stewart won't be in a Delta cockpit, but the 90-year-old was flying until three years ago. What lesson would he like us to take from his story?
"Don't give up, persevere. Don't let failure or hurt feelings gnaw at you and waste your energy," Stewart said.