WINDSOR LOCKS, Conn. (WTNH) — “The movie houses were integrated, the restaurants were integrated,” says retired Lt. Col. Harry Stewart, a Tuskegee Airman, from his home in Michigan.
But when he entered the U.S. Army with a dream to fly planes, he landed at a segregated base in Tuskegee, Alabama.
“It was mixed feelings. I had that desire to fly, I wanted to be a pilot, but yet I had to pay my dues,” he says, noting that he didn’t have time to feel angry or sad. “I had too much to do to learn how to fly. I always called it, ‘keeping my eye on the prize.'”
That prize was becoming a Tuskegee Airman and changing history during World War II.
And now, the incredible untold stories are being told in a new New England Air Museum exhibit.
The first installment is this movie theater, where visitors can hear from the airmen themselves and their family members.
“It’s critical. We have an obligation to tell their stories,” says Stephanie Abrams, the museum president and CEO.
This exhibit will be the largest one yet at the museum. In addition to the film and artifacts, a fully restored PT-17 is displayed in the hangar, an example of what the airmen flew.
“The Tuskegee Airmen changed the world, and by keeping their stories alive, they continue to do so,” says Abrams.
Stewart, now 98, is gratified by the immense progress made in the service since his time in the air.
“I have the opportunity to see what the difference really is,” he says. “I’ve lived both differences.”
He knows children will come here and learn about these 1,000 trailblazers for the very first time.
The Top Gun competition winner wants them to focus on opportunities just like he did.
“Look for what you might like, what you might devote your life to, and then once you do that, choose your prize, then keep your eye on the prize,” he says.
The video is being expanded, and the full exhibit will debut at the New England Air Museum in the spring.