Joseph C. Miles (right), of Augusta, a 1943 graduate of Harlem High, has his picture taken with fellow graduate Phil Turner after Miles was honored as a distinguished graduate.
Photo by Valerie Rowell
Joseph C. Miles said it was a little awkward Tuesday returning to his alma mater, Harlem High School, after more than 60 years.
"I was a little shocked when I got to Harlem High School this morning," Miles said Tuesday at a ceremony honoring him as a distinguished graduate of the school. "When I think of Harlem High School, I think of a whole school, grammar school and high school all located on one property - grammar school in one wing, high school in the other wing separated by the principal's office."
Miles, a Harlem native and 1943 Harlem High graduate, was recognized by the school Tuesday with a plaque that will grace the school's hall.
"It's not very often we get to honor a graduate of Harlem High School, especially someone who has accomplished so much in his life as our guest today," Principal Alan Griffin told the student body.
Miles, 80, said he left Harlem with his diploma and entered the Air Force, where he served 10 years as a fighter pilot, aviation mechanic, instructor and flight commander. He flew 101 combat missions in the P-51 Mustang fighter plane during the Korean Conflict as ground support for Army troops. For his service, Miles was awarded several commendations including the Distinguished Flying Cross, Air Medal and Presidential Unit Citation.
"I did have the unique occurrence of shooting myself down," Miles said, raising a laugh from the student body. "I fired four missiles at a set of two tanks, and the missiles ricocheted and one hit me and knocked me down."
Harlem City Councilman Tom Blalock presented Miles with a proclamation naming April 19 as Joseph C. Miles Day in Harlem.
On Tuesday, Miles remembered his former school, from which he graduated with 23 others.
"Basketball was the only sport because we didn't have enough people for a football team," Miles said. "Everyone rode the school bus. We didn't have student parking because we'd have had nothing to put in it if we had."
After his military service, Miles joined the educational team at Northrop-Rice Aviation Institute of Technology in Houston as an aviation maintenance instructor and later the director of training.
Miles also earned a commercial pilot license, repairman's license, inspectors license and the ability to issue licenses. But it was his humble beginnings in a rural Columbia County town that he attributes with the start of his flight through life.
"This is my school,'' he said. "I claim you as my school. I'd be disappointed if anyone here left without a diploma or didn't come back and get your diploma because you'll never have a second chance."
If you go
Russell K. Brown will discuss his book, Our Connection With Savannah: A History of the 1st Battalion Georgia Sharpshooters, 6 p.m. Tuesday at Edmunds Bar-B-Que, 3935 Washington Road.
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