Ace Basin Squadron Hosts Tuskegee Airmen at Former Walterboro Army Air Field


Civil Air Patrol, ACE Basin Composite Squadron

Steven Atherton


The South Carolina Wing’s ACE Basin Squadron welcomed members of the Hiram E. Mann Chapter of The Tuskegee Airmen to the Low Country Regional Airport in Walterboro this past Saturday to share with the Squadron the enduring legacy of the Tuskegee Airmen. Presentations were made by U.S. Air Force Veterans James Hampton and Barron Wilkins, followed by a Question and Answer session by phone with Tuskegee Airman Dr. Eugene J. Richardson, Jr.

During the nearly two-hour program, squadron members learned about early African American aviation pioneers like Eugene Bullard of Columbus, Georgia who served in the French Aeronautique Militaire (or French flying service) during World War I and the members of the Colored Air Circus who inspired our special guest 97 year old Tuskegee Airman Dr. Richardson to learn to fly.

Employing cadets as research assistants, presenters guided cadets through some of the obstacles that had to be overcome for the Tuskegee Airmen to be given their chance. Influenced by the now infamous 1925 Army War College report entitled “The use of negro man power in war”, African Americans were excluded by the U.S. military from consideration for air combat. As a result, when the U.S. government began establishing flight schools at colleges around the nation in 1939 through the Civilian Pilot Training Program, America’s black colleges were excluded. Five of those colleges sued provoking the policy to be changed.

Founded on July 19, 1941, in part with $5,000 of personal funds from First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, the flight school at Tuskegee University’s first graduates were white pilots who then trained their African American compatriots. Many of the African American pilots trained at Tuskegee completed their fighter pilot combat training at the Walterboro Army Air Field (now the Low Country Regional Airport). In Walterboro they flew P-40 Warhawks and P-47 Thunderbolts before heading overseas with the 332nd Fighter Group to the segregated base in Ramitelli, Italy. Overall, during World War II, nearly 1,000 pilots were trained at Tuskegee, 450 of which were sent overseas, 66 of whom were killed in action.

During World War II, the Tuskegee Airmen served with distinction, safely returning each of the bombers they escorted to base while earning 1 Legion of Merit, 1 Silver Star, 14 Bronze Stars, 2 Soldiers Medals, 150 Distinguished Flying Crosses and 744 Air Medals. They destroyed, damaged or sunk 409 aircraft (including at least one state of the art German jet fighter), 40 boats, 1 destroyer, 619 box cars and rolling stock, 126 locomotives and various other strategic targets.

Based upon their experiences, the Tuskegee Airmen identified six guiding principles that they communicated to the cadets: (1) Aim High, (2) Believe in Yourself, (3) Use Your Brain, (4) Never Quit, (5) Be Ready to Go and (6) Expect to Win. Each of the presenters and the African American Aviation pioneers they spoke about employed these principles to overcome extraordinary obstacles and achieve success in their lives.

Retired USAF Chief Master Sergeant James Hampton talked of how he rose from being a Florida Sharecropper’s son, whose interest in flying was sparked by a lone plane flying overhead one day during his childhood, to the highest enlisted rank in the Air Force over the span of 16 short years. Tuskegee Airman Dr. Eugene Richardson spoke of how his “first solo flight” was a “dream come true” and while he acknowledged (without bitterness) that when he retired from the military his aviation career ended because there were no opportunities for African American pilots at the time, he was pleased to report how his son’s experience was different. Specifically, Eugene Richardson III, after following in his father’s footsteps as a fighter pilot, but now aided by the 1963 landmark decision of the U.S. Supreme Court that opened the doors of commercial aviation to African Americans, went on to enjoy a highly successful post-military career in commercial aviation.

Cadet Senior Airman Kaytie Schweitzer summed up what she learned saying the Tuskegee Airmen “showed the power of confidence and perseverance.” Truly enduring values for any generation.

After sharing many other stories, photos and memorabilia with the Squadron, Retired USAF Master Sergeant Barron Wilkins closed out the program by presenting the Squadron with a framed poster of the Tuskegee Airmen, signed by Dr. Richardson. ACE Basin Squadron Commander First Lieutenant Timothy Elson expressed the Squadron’s gratitude for the program and the “honor” of the gift, remarking that a “suitable place of honor” must be found for it.

After consulting with South Carolina Wing Commander Colonel Christopher R. Peterson, it was determined that the suitable place of honor would be South Carolina Civil Air Patrol Wing Headquarters that all may see. This decision underscored the hope of all who participated in this special program that it will be the beginning of an ongoing collaboration that will not only enrich cadets participating in the Civil Air Patrol Cadet Program, but also our communities, state and nation as we work together to preserve and share the heroic story of the Tuskegee Airmen.

For more information about or to contact the Hiram E. Mann Chapter of The Tuskegee Airmen, you can visit their website { } or Facebook page { }.

The ACE Basin Composite Squadron of the Civil Air Patrol meets every Tuesday evening at 6 p.m. in Cottageville. Through its unique combination of leadership training, character development, aerospace education, and emergency services cadets learn how to better serve their communities, state and nation. For more information visit the squadron’s website or Facebook page

About Civil Air Patrol

Established in 1941, Civil Air Patrol is the official auxiliary of the U.S. Air Force and as such is a member of its Total Force. In its auxiliary role, CAP operates a fleet of 555 single-engine aircraft and 2,250 small Unmanned Aircraft Systems (sUAS) and performs about 90% of all search and rescue operations within the contiguous United States as tasked by the Air Force Rescue Coordination Center. Often using innovative cellphone forensics and radar analysis software, CAP was credited by the AFRCC with saving 108 lives last year. CAP’s 58,000 members also perform homeland security, disaster relief, and drug interdiction missions at the request of federal, state, and local agencies. As a nonprofit organization, CAP plays a leading role in aerospace education using national academic standards-based STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) education resources. Members also serve as mentors to 24,000 young people participating in CAP’s Cadet Programs.


No comments on this item Please log in to comment by clicking here