Major John L. Harrison, Jr. (1920-2017)

Major John Harrison was among the proud Tuskegee Airmen who were awarded the Congressional Gold Medal in 2007

John L. Harrison Jr., a Tuskegee Airman died on Wednesday, March 22, 2017, at Penn Hospice at Rittenhouse in Philadelphia. He was 96.

He was born on Dec. 14, 1920, in Kansas and raised in Nebraska and Colorado.

A retired U.S. Air Force major, Harrison served in three wars and was one of the 992 original pilots trained in the nation’s first combat aircraft program for African Americans established at the Tuskegee and Maxwell Fields in Alabama.

“We had a camaraderie, brotherhood feeling because we all experienced segregation because of the color of our skin and that bonded us together,“ Harrison said in a recording taken during the 2009 Greenwood Lake Air Show in West Milford, N.J.

Harrison flew combat missions in Italy and went on to serve in the U.S. armed forces for 24 years. He later became a director with the Peace Corps and a high ranking official in the administrations of President Richard Nixon and Pennsylvania Gov. Dick Thornburgh. Working in the private sector, he was a senior operations engineer at Boeing Co.

His military service carried him as far as the Arctic, and he eventually settled in Philadelphia’s Society Hill section, where he resided for the last 30 years.

Harrison was among the Tuskegee Airmen who were awarded the Congressional Gold Medal, one of the highest civilian honors in the United States, in 2007.

“Major Harrison served our nation honorably and with respect at a time when our government shamefully did not afford such treatment to African Americans,” said Philadelphia Veterans Advisory Commission Director Scott Brown.

“Major Harrison defended this country with his whole being for 22 years as a command pilot, became an expert in practically every kind of aircraft. His strength of character continued to his retirement, when he established close ties with the Society Hill Synagogue community and sought to inspire young people around the region by delivering talks at schools and churches. Our city and nation are fortunate to have been a part of Major Harrison’s extraordinary life,” Brown added.