Harrison has flown more than 12 types of aircraft and logged more than 10,000 hours all over the world, but he never got to fly World War II missions. See, the military believed black pilots could never be trained enough, so Harrison spent the entire war stateside.
"We trained for four years at bases all over the country," he says. "We were the best-trained outfit in the United States."
For the most part, Harrison tried to ignore the racial prejudice that defined his stint in the military, starting in an Omaha recruiting office in 1941, when a white sergeant threw his enlistment papers back at him and said, "We don't train you people."
On base, black officers were prohibited from going into the officers' club. Red Tails devotes a scene to that fact.
Harrison lived it.
"They told us the club was for permanent officers and that we were transitional," Harrison recalled. "But at the time, our club dues were automatically taken out of our pay. So we were paying for something we could not use."
While stationed in Surfridge, Calif., outside Los Angeles, Harrison remembered looking forward to hearing the commanding general address the controversy. By then a young, bright-eyed second lieutenant, Harrison just knew fairness was on his side.
"We shined our brass, put our uniforms on, and went to the base theater. There was a rope down the middle of the aisle with blacks sitting on one side and whites on the other."
The general, tall and standing ramrod straight, addressed the black officers: "You people have not been ready for the past 300 years, and you won't be ready for the next 300 years. You will not use that officers' club!"
The next day, a disillusioned Harrison and his fellow black pilots received orders to report to Fort Knox, Ky.
A war movie
At least an hour of Red Tails is devoted to combat sequences; of airmen with cool nicknames, strapped in their P-51 Mustangs, taking down Germans with precision and aplomb, all while escorting white U.S. bomber pilots to safety.
It's a war movie, all right. Red Tails reminded me of a big-screen, computer-generated video game, the kind my son used to play. This is not surprising, seeing as how Lucas intended it to be more like Star Wars for teenage boys than A Soldier's Story for thoughtful moviegoers.
Still, the filmmakers missed a huge opportunity. For all of Red Tails' swagger in the air, the meat of the story lies in the fight for equality the nation's first black military pilots waged on the ground.
"You won't see Red Tails and start a movement," says Mike Dennis of Reelblack, an African American film production and promotion company. "But if it gets one kid to open a book and read more about the Tuskegee Airmen, it will have done its job."
Fact is, over the last decade, films and documentaries about the Tuskegee Airmen have slowly raised awareness about a group of heroes so long ignored.
Men like Harrison, who now lives in Philadelphia and is working on his memoirs.
Despite it all, Harrison has lived a fulfilling life, he says.
At 91, he has only one wish - and it involves the sergeant who threw the enlistment papers at him.
"I wish I could go back to Omaha in my major's uniform and my pilot's wings and say to that sergeant, 'Come to attention!'
"And he would have to say, 'Yes sir.' "
Contact Annette John-Hall at 215-854-4986, Ajohnhall@phillynews.com, or on Twitter at Annettejh.