BARKSDALE AIR FORCE BASE, La. --
Aviators from the 20th Bomb Squadron conducted a funeral flyover in memory of retired Air Force Gen. Thomas C. Richards with two B-52H Stratofortresses at the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colo., Oct. 2, 2020.
“Our Squadron has the privilege of honoring the life of Gen. Richards, by performing a flyover of Gen. Richards’ burial site at the United States Air Force Academy,” said Capt. Shawn O’Donnell, 20th BS aircraft commander. “This flyover is exceptionally special to us because as part of Gen. Richards’ storied career he served as a 20th BS Buccaneer flying B-52s over Vietnam. This unique connection makes this opportunity all the more impactful.”
Richards’ military service began in 1948. After graduating from Hampton High School, Va., he enlisted in the U.S. Army as an infantryman and deployed to Korea as a platoon sergeant, where he was wounded twice in combat. He then earned a BS in business administration from Virginia Polytechnic Institute in 1956, where he was a distinguished graduate of the Air Force Reserve Officers Training Corps Program. He completed pilot training and earned his wings at Goodfellow Air Force Base, Texas, in 1957. After combat crew training, he was assigned as a B-47 Stratojet co-pilot with the 19th Bombardment Wing, Homestead Air Force Base, Fla., from 1958 to 1961.
After being upgraded to B-47 aircraft commander, he served at Little Rock Air Force Base, Ark., and Lockbourne Air Force Base, Ohio. He completed Squadron Officer School in 1963, then received B-52 combat crew training at Castle Air Force Base, Calif., from May to August 1964.
His first assignment to Barksdale Air Force Base, La., occurred during the Vietnam War, when he was assigned to the 20th Bomb Squadron and was an aircraft commander during some of the first B-52 combat missions of the conflict. From 1966 to 1969, he served as a forward air controller with the 101st Airborne Infantry Division, then a consecutive tour with the 56th Commando (later Special Operations) Wing, being stationed in Thailand with detached duty to the U.S. Embassy in Laos. In addition, he commanded Raven forward air controllers and flew 624 combat missions in O-1 Bird Dogs, T-28 Trojans, U-10 Super Couriers, and U-17 Skywagons.
In January 1969, General Richards returned to the United States, where he was assigned to the U.S. Air Force Academy until May 1972. He graduated from the Army War College in June 1973, and then he transferred to Lackland Air Force Base, Texas from 1973 to 1975, where he was the deputy wing commander and then the commander of the Basic Military Training School. In June 1975, he served as the chief of the Motivations and Communications Branch, and then the chief of the Leadership and Motivation Division, within the Directorate of Personnel Plans, Office of the Deputy Chief of Staff for Personnel, Headquarters Air Force in Washington, D.C.
General Richards served as the commander of the Air Reserve Personnel Center in Denver from 1976 to 1977, then he returned to the U.S. Air Force Academy as the Vice Commandant of Cadets in December 1977 and the Commandant of Cadets from March 1978 until February 1981. His next assignments were as the commander of the Air Force Recruiting Service at Randolph Air Force Base, Texas, then as the commander of the Keesler Technical Training Center at Keesler Air Force Base, Miss.
He later returned to Barksdale AFB to become the vice commander for the Eighth Air Force from September 1983 to July 1984. After that assignment, he commanded Air University at Maxwell Air Force Base, Ala., until November 1986. He was promoted to the rank of general Dec. 1, 1986, with the same date of rank. His final assignment on active duty was serving as the deputy Commander in Chief of the U.S. European Command at Stuttggart-Vaihingen, Germany, until his retirement on Sept. 30, 1989. Gen. Richards passed away at his home in San Antonio on Aug. 9, 2020.
Richards was a command pilot with more than 4,700 flying hours. His military decorations and awards include the Distinguished Service Medal, Silver Star with oak leaf cluster, Legion of Merit with oak leaf cluster, Purple Heart with oak leaf cluster, Meritorious Service Medal, and Air Medal with 17 oak leaf clusters. He is rated as a senior parachutist and earned the Combat Infantry Badge.
“Following our remembrance fly-by at the Air Force Academy we will continue our salute to the fallen by overflying Ft. Logan National Cemetery,” said O’Donnell. “Getting to partake in this portion of the flight is personally significant to me since I grew up in the Denver area and have family members laid to rest at Ft. Logan. At the conclusion of the flyover, we will continue to hone our skills as aviators by utilizing the time spent flying back home to Barksdale to conduct aerial refueling training as well as to run a simulated combat scenario. Getting to be a part of a flight like this is a once in a lifetime experience and one that I am truly honored to be a part of.”