Retiree speaks of experiences as a Tuskegee Airman
Retired Air Force Master Sergeant Buford A. Johnson (U.S. Air Force photo by Joseph A. Olano)
Retiree speaks of experiences as a Tuskegee Airman

by Joseph A. Olano
452 AMW

4/14/2010 - MARCH AIR RESERVE BASE, CALIF. -- More than 700 federal employees gathered to listen to Buford A. Johnson, a World War II veteran and retired Air Force master sergeant at the California Service Center in Laguna Niguel, Calif. Sergeant Johnson spoke about racial segregation, his obstacles and accomplishments as a member of the Tuskegee Airmen and his experiences in the early days of the Air Force.

At 82-years-old, Johnson spoke without notes and was at ease in front of his audience. "I did not expect to speak to such a large crowd. And come to think of it I never have," he said.

Johnson showed the audience his Congressional Gold Medal, presented to the Tuskegee Airmen by President George W. Bush.

After he spoke, Johnson posed for photos and answered questions about his experiences and the Tuskegee Airmen. When asked about speaking on behalf of the Tuskegee Airmen, he replied, "what I and we accomplished could not be done without the support people who assisted us when we were doing our job. When we speak in public, we represent them and those who are no longer here. It is about we the Tuskegee Airmen, not I."

Sergeant Johnson said of the crowd, "those who remembered us thanked us for our service. And those who were just learning of our accomplishments were amazed and grateful for what we did."

Master Sergeant Johnson was born in Longview, Texas on Aug. 30, 1927. He grew up in Shiloh, Texas, and graduated high school in 1945. At the age of 18, he was drafted into the U.S. Navy. However, Johnson learned that if he volunteered for three years in the Army he could possibly work with the Army Air Corps.

Johnson joined the Army and completed Basic Training at Sheppard Field, Texas. Upon graduation, he was assigned to an all-black unit, the 99th Fighter Squadron, 477th Composite Group at Godman Field, Ky.

In Nov. 1946, Johnson's unit was reassigned to Lockbourne Army Air Base, Ohio. As an aircraft mechanic he was trained in the repair and maintenance of the Republic P-47N Thunderbolt.

Johnson's P-47N was one of four aircraft selected to be used in the Annual U.S. Air Force Gunnery Meet that was held at Nellis AFB, Nev. in the spring of 1949.

During his 21-year career Johnson was stationed at numerous bases, to include Toul- Rosières Air Base, France, Ramstein Air Base, Germany, and Itazuke Air Base, Japan. When Johnson was assigned to the 80th Fighter-Bomber Squadron, his hard work and skill earned him the unit's first F-80C Shooting Star. He was also the first black jet mechanic and crew chief in the Air Force to receive the award and the first black crew chief to serve in a combat zone. Sergeant Johnson retired from the Air Force in 1966.

On March 13, during the monthly meeting of the Tuskegee Airmen Buford A. Johnson Chapter in Riverside, Calif., Johnson was presented with a letter of appreciation. The letter was presented by Keith Turner on behalf of the Department of Homeland Security California Service Center's Director Christina Poulos.

The Tuskegee Airmen meet monthly at the March Field Museum. The Buford A. Johnson Chapter of the Tuskegee Airmen in Riverside promotes the history and the accomplishments of the Tuskegee Airmen and creates scholarships for youths pursuing a career in aviation.