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AARP Is Making Wishes Come True

Wish of a Lifetime From AARP has served over 2,000 older Americans

CEO Jo Ann Jenkins and Tuskegee pilot James Harvey III at the National Air and Space Museum
CEO Jo Ann Jenkins and Tuskegee pilot James Harvey III at the National Air and Space Museum.
CHRIS FERENZI/WISH OF A LIFETIME

Lt. Col. James H. Harvey III, 99, had a dream. And Wish of a Lifetime From AARP was able to help the former fighter pilot’s dream come true.

Harvey and his team of pilots from the 332nd Fighter Group — the famed Tuskegee Airmen — won the first U.S. Air Force “Top Gun” weapons meet, held in 1949. But his team was never fully acknowledged for winning the competition. As decades passed, their accomplishment remained unrecognized.

Pilot Harvey in front of a World War II-era P-47 Thunderbolt fighter plane
Pilot James Harvey III in front of a World War II-era P-47 Thunderbolt fighter plane.
Courtesy James Harvey III

Harvey, who went on to be the first African American to fly a fighter jet in combat, during the Korean War, worked tirelessly with fellow airman ​Lt. Col. Harry Stewart Jr. to right this wrong. They spent years seeking recognition from the Air Force Almanac committee. In 1995, the record books were corrected to acknowledge the 332nd Fighter Group as the winners. Finally, in 2004, the lost trophy was also found.

Harvey’s diligence paid off. But he still wished to see his comrades receive recognition. When the Wish of a Lifetime team learned of Harvey’s story, they reached out to him and contacted the Air Force Association to organize a ceremony to recognize Harvey and the 332nd fighter pilots.

“My wish was to go to Nellis Air Force Base and see us listed right at the top, as far as the weapons meets go,” Harvey says. In January,​ the Wish of a Lifetime team took Harvey to ​Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada to attend a ​commemoration ceremony, where a plaque ​was mounted honoring the historic moment ​in Tuskegee Airmen history. This plaque will ​reside permanently at the U.S. Air Force Weapons School to inspire generations of students.

Since its founding in 2008, Wish of a Lifetime has made over 2,000 wishes like this come true for older adults across America while also helping to combat the negative​ effects of isolation.

AARP joined forces with the group in 2020 because we want people to know that it’s never too late to dream, regardless of age.

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We strive every day to challenge outdated stereotypes and attitudes about aging and to spark new solutions that empower people to choose how they live as they age. Wish of a Lifetime seemed like the ideal partner to help us do that.

We are using AARP’s resources to reach more people — both those who want to give help and those who apply to make their wishes come true.

Visit the Wish of a Lifetime website to hear more inspiring stories, and to find out how you can be involved in the program.

As we enter the season of giving, I’m reminded of the saying: When you dream alone, it is only a dream. But when we dream with others, it’s no longer a dream but the beginning of reality. At Wish of a Lifetime From AARP, we are helping to celebrate older adults for their accomplishments and sacrifices while seeing their dreams come to life.