SARASOTA, Fla. (WFLA) – Retired Lieutenant Colonel George Hardy faced two battles while fighting for our country: the war and racism. Yet, he persevered and helped pave the way for future Black pilots.

“The Army said ‘Blacks can’t do this, they can’t fly, they can’t do that,’ but we proved them wrong,” Hardy said.

George Hardy was born in 1925 during segregation in Philadelphia.

“I grew up in Philadelphia and there were places in Philadelphia where colored people couldn’t eat,” he said. “Colored, white – signs all over the place, segregation was rampant then.”

Racism stared Hardy, now 96 years old, in the face everyday and he remembers it like it was yesterday.

“It’s reality. We got used to it,” he said.

In 1943, Hardy joined the United States Army at 17 years old. He had one goal, which was to go to Tuskegee and become a pilot.

“If you crossed certain lines, you gone be in deep trouble in the south, so you had to learn in live with it. What’s important? I wanted to be a pilot. You stay within the lines, you do what you have to do and we succeeded,” he said.

More than 900 Black pilots graduated from Tuskegee, but only 355 went on to fight in WWII. Hardy was one of them.

“It was a brotherhood,” Hardy said. “We had to depend on each other.”

Hardy also served our country in the Korean War and the Vietnam War. He flew a total of 136 combat missions.

Here’s how he said he felt as a Black man serving a country where the majority did not like him simply because of the color of his skin: “It’s our country too and we’ll fight for them, but it was concerning when you come back from overseas and the sign for white and colored and now you’re segregated again.”

As News Channel 8 honors Black History, more of Lt. Col. Hardy’s story will be shared. Hear stories about the mistreatment he endured while fighting for this country, how he overcame those obstacles, where he thinks the country is today and see how he continues to give back to the country today.

Join us for Honoring Black History on Saturday, Feb. 19 at 7 p.m. on WFLA and Sunday, Feb. 20 at 9 p.m. on WTTA.