The Richmond Register

Local News

July 23, 2007

Alumni honor WWII pilot

From 1906 to 1956, when Kentucky education was strictly segregated, Richmond High School provided secondary schooling for black students in Richmond and Madison County.

RHS graduates distinguished themselves in many endeavors. Three were fighter pilots in World War II.

The RHS alumni, who gather for a reunion every two years, Saturday night honored Frank D. Walker, one of the famed Tuskegee Airmen who flew combat planes for the U.S. Air Force at a time when they had to endure the indignities of segregation at home.

During the reunion banquet at Eastern Kentucky University, the RHS alumni also awarded college scholarships to 10 of their descendents and talked about creating a legacy organization to preserve the memory of their alma mater.

In addition to Walker, RHS alumni Gene Runyon and John Harris trained as pilots at Tuskegee, Ala., and flew combat missions in Europe, according to Ron Spriggs of Nicholasville, who maintains a Tuskegee exhibit at the Kentucky Aviation Museum in Lexington.

Spriggs, who frequently addresses school and civic groups, brought his traveling exhibit to Richmond for the reunion.

Some 992 black aviators trained at the Tuskegee air base in a pioneering program advocated by First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt and Willa Brown of Glasgow, the first black woman pilot in the United States.

Walker, who graduated from RHS in 1938, was a student at West Virginia State College when WWII started. His brother Bill and sister Jamie, also RHS graduates, were fellow college students there at the time. The Walker brothers joined the Army in 1942, and Frank applied for flight training at Tuskegee with an application provided by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, said their youngest sister Ann Collins, RHS class of 1953, who addressed the reunion.

The Tuskegee flyers, 450 of whom were assigned to escort bombers and support ground combat operations in south central Europe, lost 150 men to accidents and combat, but never lost an escorted bomber to enemy aircraft, Spriggs said.

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