Students and instructors stand and applaud retired Chief Master Sgt. Walter Richardson after he shares the story of his career Oct. 4, 2012 at the Mathies NCO Academy. Richardson, a Tuskegee Airman with 332 Fighter Wing, was one of 1,500 African-American Airmen selected to being racial integration in the Air Force in 1949. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Eric Summers)
Charles Bowers and retired Chief Master Sgt. Curtis Jennings, watch retired Chief Master Sgt. Walter Richardson, a Tuskegee Airman and Congressional Gold Medal recipient, as he speaks to students Oct. 4 at the Mathies Noncommissioned Officer Academy. Richardson shared with the students his experience as one of 1,500 African-American Airmen selected to integrate the Air Force in 1949. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Eric Summers)
by Staff Sgt. Eric Summers Jr.
81st Training Wing Public Affairs
10/10/2012 - KEESLER AIR FORCE BASE, Miss. -- Airmen Leadership School and NCO Academy classes are usually filled with course work and lectures structured to help Airmen become better leaders. But both classes received a different type of lecture when a living part of history, a member of the Tuskegee Airmen, spoke to the classes Oct. 4.
Retired Chief Master Sgt. Walter Richardson, one of 1,500 African-American Airmen selected to integrate into the Air Force in 1949, recipient of the Congressional Gold Medal and 1972 Air Force Outstanding Airman of the Year, shared words of encouragement and wisdom with students at the Mathies NCO Academy and Keesler's ALS.
"I'm really pleased to be here and to address you who are standing to be the future leaders of the Air Force," Richardson said. "It allows me to tell my story in a real way about my willingness to reach the highest level of (enlisted) leadership."
During Richardson's time with the classes he talked about his journey to become a Tuskegee Airman.
"I became a Tuskegee Airman as a senior," Richardson began "The Tuskegee Airmen were the first group of military people to put together a show like (today's)Tops in Blue, it was the first military show organized to entertain. The name of the show was Operation Happiness."
"I was in basic training in 1949. When they came to Lackland Air Force Base...General Chappie James, mentioned that auditions would be held tomorrow," Richardson said. "One way or another I somehow made it to that audition."
"They didn't have a piano player, they didn't have any sheet music, you just got up and you sang" Richardson continued. "And I did. They selected me. So when they selected the 1,500 they made specific instructions for fully-qualified suitable, African-Americans to go into a (previously) all white unit."
The group was disbanded in September of 1949 when Lockbourne Army Air Base was deactivated, the same year that integration began in the Air Force.
"No one wanted a singer, but I was found suitable to go into an all white unit so I was selected. I didn't know I was an original Tuskegee," Richardson explained. "None of us that were in that theatre were aware that we were making history. We just knew what Bill Davis said that we had a right like every other American to fight for our country, we knew that and that was a part of us"
Richardson, not realizing the impact that their actions would one day have on the Air Force, said that he carried forward based on three pillars he has known since childhood.
"The only thing that I had was hope," said Richardson. "I built my life, not just my Air Force career, on three pillars of faith, hope and love."
"It didn't matter about the turbulence of the time or the color of skin God put me in." he continued "I had the foundation upon which I wanted to build my life."
His motivation and foundation helped him achieve his first of many goals to be promoted to the rank of technical sergeant in six years.
After being chosen to begin integration into the Air Force Richardson was then assigned to Okinawa, Japan.
"Deep down in my mind I figured I had the foundation of the faith, hope and love, the education and had been selected to do this process," he said. "There was no turning back, just pressing forward."
Richardson credits the many successes of his career and rising to the top enlisted rank not only to the three pillars of faith, hope, and love but also to his wife Helen to whom he has been married for 58 years.
Before departing the class, Richardson gave the students one last piece of advice.
"You must take advantage of the instruction you get here while attending the leadership school. Every moment is important, every lesson contains very important guidelines tried and proven to develop your skills to become truly outstanding leaders. I feel confident that you would take this seriously and use it to continue the work we started in 1949."