Tuskeegee Airman speaks to Air Commandos
By Staff Sgt. Victoria Sneed, 1st Special Operations Wing Public Affairs
/ Published February 24, 2014
HURLBURT FIELD, Fla. --
A bespectacled, elderly man in a red jacket and tie sits in a high-back chair, his grin spreading from ear to ear as he greets guests at the front of auditorium.
Retired Chief Master Sgt. Walter Richardson served 30 years in the Air Force before retiring here in 1979. He shared his story with Hurlburt Airmen as part of Black History Month.
"In 1949, I enlisted at Maxwell Air Force Base, [Ala.]," said the Pensacola, Fla., native. "I was in the last all-black flight to go through basic training at Lackland [Air Force Base, Texas]."
It was during basic training that Richardson was allowed to watch Operation Happiness perform. The group toured bases, entertained service members and was the predecessor to Tops in Blue.
"I auditioned after the show and the master of ceremonies gave me a job on the spot with the singing sergeants," said Richardson.
After basic training, he was stationed at Lockbourne Field, Ohio, as part of Operation Happiness, where he was assigned to work with the Tuskeegee Airmen.
"I was chosen as one of the 1,500 enlisted and 200 officers to begin integration into white units," said the Congressional Gold Medal awardee.
Richardson said he was then sent to Okinawa, Japan, where he met opposition to the integration order.
"The first sergeant wasn't ready for me at all," said Richardson. "He told me to go cut the grass with no tools."
When faced with a difficult situation, Richardson said he always fell back on one particular childhood lesson.
The lesson was, "Keep your bags packed," he said. "Be ready when the doors of opportunity open."
Richardson used that ideal to cut the grass with a sharpened barrel ring, which impressed the first sergeant. He said he still keeps to this philosophy today.
"I believe the foundation you build early in life has to be strong to face the challenges you are going to face as life goes on," said Richardson
His message to Airmen was to take opportunity and also give it to others.
"The combined efforts of others open the doors for those who come behind us," he said. "I don't mind talking about what it was like back then, because I see how it is now."
This concept hit home with the audience.
"He reminded me of my oath and what being American means to me," said Capt. Lin Gan, 1st Special Operations Wing assistant judge advocate. "He encouraged me to perceive all things in a positive light, no matter what the circumstance."