Flying Through History: A Conversation with Tuskegee Airman Lt. Eugene J. Richardson, Jr.

Well, I do the thing with kids. I tell them, listen, along with your A's and B's, you need three D's, dream, desire, and discipline. 

- Lt. Eugene J. Richardson, Jr. 

Flying Through History: A Conversation with Tuskegee Airmen Lt. Eugene J. Richardson, Jr.
Image from Philadelphia Chapter of Tuskegee Airmen, Inc. 

 - How did you get involved with the military? What inspired you? Did you have certain people in your life, or did you just want to represent your country? 

I wanted to fly the airplane since I was a kid, like since I was a young kid. The war started and I gave an opportunity to volunteer for a flight service. And since Tuskegee is the only place in the country where men of color could fly and be trained to fly, we're all known as Tuskegee, we all adopted the word named Tuskegee Airmen for our organization. 

 -Could you share a little bit more about your experiences during your time in training before you were in a war position abroad?

We first go for standard basic training, you know, how to march is how to do a gun and how to fire and all. We did that at Keisler Field, Mississippi.  

At Keisler Field was also a, not only a T.C. institution, it was also an evaluation organization. We're already evaluated in terms of our physical and mental abilities to fly an airplane. 

Then after being there for a few months, we were sent to Tuskegee. Those of us who qualified were sent to Tuskegee for flight training. And our first instance of flight training was in primary where we flew the PT -17. That was a two wing, two cockpit airplanes. And your instructor set it in the front cockpit, and you were in the student in the back.  

And after about, I guess seven or eight hours of dual instruction with my instructor, he decided that me give it a try by myself. And hey, that was a great day. 

 -You'll be glad to know that this upcoming release we have with the TAI is inspired by the PT -17 that you're mentioning. It does pull some colors and details from one of the aircraft over there.  

 -So a following question I would like to ask is with the Tuskegee Airmen or with the services in the U .S. military, is there any experience you feel like is valuable educational or just something you feel comfortable sharing?  

Okay, I did not get into combat. We started flight school in '44, that was '44. And about a year later is when my class was finished, and my class finished flight school in March of 1945. 

And as you know, the war ended in May. So the last class that went over was in June of 45, I think, 44, I think. So I didn't get into combat, the war ended. But I enjoyed flying around. That was my, my whole goal was to just fly around and I was able to do that. And I enjoyed it.  

 - Were there any experiences during your time? Regardless of combat that you feel were iconic or pivotal to your growth and your entire sort of view on life or career? 

Our combat, after flight school, we went to Walterboro, South Carolina. We went there for our combat training, for advanced combat training. And there it flew P40s and P47s. And I enjoyed flying both of them 

Although P40 to me was more nimble than the heavy P47, but I enjoyed flying both of them. And well, as you know, the war ended, and of course, they dropped the bomb on Japan and that took care of all of that.  

 - Do you have any advice to share to anyone who'd be listening to this or reading this afterwards or any other for just young people who are looking to get involved? 

One of the guys that I know who was on our top gunner regime. He had polio as a kid and he wore a leg brace but he didn't let that stop and he shook the leg brace and there was also this test where they hit your knee with a hammer or something and he decided with the guy he didn't let him know that he was okay. 

He almost kicked the guy off a chair with his reflex but that's the kind of thing where you don't let your pet him and stop you.  

You want to do something you go right ahead, and do it find a way to get it done He had polio, and you know that's got an easy thing to work with but he was able to work with me and he actually was almost an age.  

He shot down three German airplanes even though he had polio and I'm not sure how strong his leg was, but he shot down three German airplanes.  

 - And in terms of the Red Tails or the Tuskegee Airmen could you share about what you feel that program that experience brought to the course of history or course of America at least?

Well, we say Tuskegee Airmen changed this country. Prior to World War II our military was rigidly segregated by race.  


The notion back then was that men of color did not have the intelligence to be commanding officers and especially for white kids to take orders from men of color, they felt inferior. Well, our experience showed them that these men of color were some of the best pilots the Air Force had, because the bomber guys kept asking for the red tails to protect them as they went over on their bombing missions. 


We had the lowest number of bomber losses of any of the groups that were escorting bombers were over in Europe. Our guys escorted bombers from southern Italy all the way up to Berlin. 


One mission lasted for maybe like 16 hours or something like that. Our guys flew the whole thing. With that kind of performance, President Harry Truman, let me go back for a minute. He may know that we received the Congressional Gold Medal. 


Now, that medal awarded by Congress, President Bush, saluted us and presented the medal. On the front of the medal, there are three profiles, a pilot, a mechanic and an administrator. On the back of the medal, there are the three or four airplanes that we flew, plus it also explains why we received the Congressional Gold Medal. On the back of the medal up for 2007, it says, "Outstanding combat performance inspired revolutionary reform of the armed services." That refers to the fact that in 1948, President Harry Truman issued an executive order, Executive Order which in effect said that there will be no racial discrimination in the armed services. 

Every man in the service will have the same opportunities to reach their dreams. And that was the end of segregation in the military. 

And that carried on to the point where, first of all, one of our guys became a four -star general. Daniel Chaffee James became a four-star general. He commanded North American Air Defence System. Now he commanded thousands of white guys in that particular position. But also, this gave the opportunity, opened the opportunity for people to rise up. So the very first, and I repeat, the very first female to obtain the rank of four-star admiral was a female of color. Michelle Howard, Michelle Howard became a four-star admiral, and she was the very first female to obtain that rank, and she's a woman of color. 


So that just shows you how things were changed because of the performance of Tuskegee Airmen. Our guys, as I said before, our slogan is Tuskegee Airmen change this country. 

 - You've obviously become an educator throughout your career. What is something that you would say to inspire students to overcome any challenge?

Well, I do the thing with kids. I tell them, listen, along with your A's and B's, you need three D's.  

You need a dream of what you want your life to be and how you want to live, what you want for your family.  

You need a desire to make that dream real.  

You need the discipline, the self -discipline to keep yourself one track to obtain, make your dream real.  

Flying Through History: A Conversation with Tuskegee Airmen Lt. Eugene J. Richardson, Jr.
Image from Tuskegee Airmen Incorporated

 - For the TAI, what do you feel like their role is in the current future of youth, whether it's for aspiring pilots or just people of the United States? 

TAI, Tuskegee Airmen Incorporated. Well, we try to get kids who are interested in aviation and we even get an opportunity to have an airplane ride. 

We've worked with EA240, that's in the Pennsylvania area, and we're arranged for young kids to have airplane rides and we also do some stuff with drones and all these kinds of things to inspire kids to point kids toward a career in aviation. 

Now, my son became a pilot. He retired as a captain on a triple seven. At age 60, 65, you have to retire. So he was 65 in April of this year. So he had to leave the cockpit, but he now works with FAA.  

And his career is set all through, rest of his life plus the fantastic opportunities he set up for his children. They've always gone to great schools and they're off in college now.  

 - I genuinely appreciate your time. Dr.Richardson, I've concluded what I wanted to ask and share. I feel very honored to be able to speak to you, so I genuinely appreciate that. As a timepiece brand, AVI-8, we're aware that the storylines that we pull from throughout military aviation history are drawn from the efforts and the courage and the bravery and the work of people such as you and your former colleagues. 

The goal is to always give back, and that's why with this release with the Tuskegee Airmen Incorporated, it's a release that we hold very closely to our hearts. 


We want to make sure we represent the organization as well, the storylines as well. We don't want to mislead anyone.  

Our guys were the original top guns. 

You may have heard about that. There are a group of four guys who participated in the gunnery contest and our guys came in first. 

Then there's now a trophy at Wright Patterson, testing to the fact that our guys came in first. Took them a long time for them to admit that men of color were the top guns, but they had to admit it and we now have the trophy to show it, show for it.  

 - Really, really appreciate your time again and thank you so much.  

It was really a pleasure. Really a pleasure.