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Bakersfield filmmaker recounts the story of first Black airman in World War II

"We’re talking about American history."
Smithsonian African American Museum
Posted at 10:27 PM, Feb 18, 2022
and last updated 2022-02-19 03:00:12-05

BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KERO) — The Tuskegee airmen were a group of the first African American military pilots who fought in World War II.

Out of the 355 that flew overseas, only seven of them are alive today, and 96-year-old Lieutenant Colonel George Hardy is one of them, that’s why Julian Wilson wants to tell his story.

“I was always looking for things that people wanted to know but, couldn’t, didn’t have access to,” said Wilson.

A college football player turned Bakersfield Police officer turned documentary filmmaker, that’s Julian Wilson. His latest film titled ‘Kings of Freedom’ highlights one Tuskegee airman.

“It’s important to know and understand, what it took for them to do what they did. They had to be better than everybody else.”

Lieutenant Colonel George Hardy is 96 years old, and in a project that has taken nearly three years to complete, Wilson wants to share this story with the world.

“I graduated from high school in June of ‘42. That was six months after Pearl Harbor had been attacked, so we were at war at that time and we’re trying to catch up,” said Hardy.

He was one of the first African American airmen in the U.S. Military.

“I was assigned to the 990 Fighter Squadron. Flying P-51 aircrafts, bombing missions over Germany, and I flew 21 combat missions before the war ended. I was still 19 years old.”

Hardy said race was a dividing issue at the time, in all branches of the military. “In those days, racial segregation was rigid in this country.”

He said he felt the brunt of it through the years in the service. In 1950, he said he was taken off missions.

“Just after I finished, I heard this word, “Hardy get out of the airplane”, it was my squadron commander. I got down and he replaced me on that crew that day and had someone else with him who took off in my place. It was devastating for me to see them take off without me that day.”

Hardy said the issues started to slowly resolve during his years serving but added that the bond he developed with his fellow servicemembers through those difficult years was very special.

“The guys we flew with, we had all this adversity and so to get things done, we had to look inward toward each other for support. I think that created bonds with us that just lasted a lifetime.”

Even with his military career, he always wanted to be an engineer and calls himself a lifelong learner. “People talk me to me about talking about my three wars, but the thing I’m proud of is I got two engineering degrees.”

Wilson said he wanted to bring this story to light to help share pieces of living history.

“As a Black man, to be able to search these stories out, embrace these stories, and then share these stories, so that other people, it doesn’t matter who [see it]. History is for all of us, and when we talk about Black history, we have to understand we’re talking about American history. Just happens to be that that history was done by a Black person.”

Hardy said even though they did have to pay the price of losing loved ones during the war, he is glad he gets to share his story.

“Those things happen as you go along; you don’t pay much attention to them. It’s just life, it’s your career, you do that, but then when you look back on it, not too many people flew in three wars and live to tell about it,” said Hardy.

Wilson said he wants his film to inspire people who need that extra push. That’s why he is also screening the film on February 28 at his alma mater, CSU Bakersfield.

Black History Month
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