94-year-old Tuskegee Airman recognized for lifetime of service

PHILADELPHIA, Pa. -- "This is my country and I just wanted to fight for my true slice of it," said Dr. Eugene J. Richardson Jr.

In his youth, black individuals were not allowed to command whites in the U.S. Armed Forces. His valiant efforts as part of the Tuskegee Airmen proved that discrimination on the basis of race, color, and creed was unjust.

Originally from Ohio, Richardson moved to Camden, New Jersey, before entering the war.

As a young man in the 1930s, Richardson attended an air show featuring black stuntmen and was instantly hooked on aviation. Almost a century later, he is being recognized for the role he played in the United States Army Air Corps.

The 94-year-old received a certificate of appreciation today from the Four Chaplains Memorial Foundation.

In the 1940s, Richardson was a part of the group that would come to be known as the Tuskegee Airmen. The first black fighter pilots to engage in combat for the United States, they are remembered for inspiring the desegregation of the military.

The Tuskegee Airmen were collectively honored with the Congressional Gold Medal by President George W. Bush in 2007. On the back, it reads, "Outstanding combat record inspired revolutionary reform of the armed services."

Richardson later became a middle school teacher and principal in Philadelphia until 1991.

"I tell kids, along with your As and Bs in school, you need three Ds," he said. "You need to dream. You need to desire to make that dream real. And then you need discipline. You need the self-discipline to keep yourself on track to make that dream come true."

The award he received today was motivated by this indelible impression he made on children.

It was administered by the Four Chaplains Memorial Foundation. With a chapel in South Philadelphia, the organization was looking for someone who embodied the spirit of those who sacrificed their lives aboard the U.S.A.T. Dorchester in 1943. Specifically, four chaplains offered the life vests on their backs to save an additional four individuals. A German boat torpedoed the ship, leaving only 230 survivors out of 902 on board.

In their honor, Dr. Richardson received a certificate of appreciation, a challenge coin, and a hat pin.

"I encourage young people to look at the military," Dr. Richardson said. "You make me 19 again and I'm right back there."

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