Buford Alvin Johnson
August 30, 1927 – April 15, 2017
Johnson was born in Longview, Texas on August 30, 1927, and raised in Shiloh, Texas, graduating from the Shiloh High School in 1945.
When Johnson was 18 years old, the U.S. Military drafted him into the U.S. Navy. At the time, the only tasks that African-American men were allowed to do in the Navy were menial jobs, which he was not interested in doing. He learned that volunteering for a three-year tour of duty in the U.S. Army would supersede the draft orders, so Johnson instead enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Force in 1945. He became one of the first African-Americans allowed to work on U.S. fighter aircraft.
Johnson did his Basic Training at Sheppard Field Texas. Upon graduating, he was assigned to the 99th Fighter Squadron of the 477th Composite Group which was stationed at Godman Field, Kentucky.
In November of 1946, the 477th Composite Group was reassigned to Lockbourne Army Air Base. At this time, Mr. Johnson was assigned to the flight line for training in the repair and maintenance of the Republic P47N Thunderbolt. The Composite Group was inactivated in 1947, and the 332nd Fighter Group was reactivated with the 99th, 100th, and 301st Fighter Squadrons. Buford’s P-47N was one of 4 aircraft chosen to be in the First Annual USAF Gunnery Meet being held at Nellis Air Force Base where the 332nd Fighter Wing won first place in the Conventional Aircraft Class. In 1949, the 332nd Fighter Wing was deactivated.
Staff Sergeant Buford Johnson was sent from Lockbourne AFB, Ohio to the 5th Air Force, 8th Fighter-Bomber wing, 80th Fighter Bomber Squadron stationed at Itazuke Air Base in Japan. He was in the cadre of the first African-American airmen to integrate Itazuke Air Base. S/Sgt. Johnson was assigned as crew chief and assigned his own aircraft, an F-51D Mustang. The aircraft had been cannibalized for spare parts, but S/Sgt. Johnson rose to the challenge and gradually made the aircraft airworthy and combat ready. This earned him the 80th FBS first F80-C Shooting Star. S/Sgt. Johnson was then assigned to be the first African-American jet mechanic in the USAF, and was the first African-American Jet Crew Chief to serve in a Combat Zone.
Technical Sergeant Buford Johnson ended his combat tour in Korea on December 19, 1951. In January 1952 he was assigned to the 6520th Test Support Wing, Air Force Cambridge Research Center, Hanscom AFB, Bedford, Massachusetts as an Aircraft Maintenance Supervisor. On April 1, 1953 Technical Sergeant Buford Johnson was promoted to Master Sergeant after Serving seven years in the USAF. Unheard of in the Air Force today.
On July 25, 1956, Master Sergeant Buford Johnson was assigned to the 50th Fighter Bomber Wing in Toul-Rosieres Air Base, France. He reported on August 15, 1956 and assigned to the 417th Fighter Bomber Squadron, Chuck Yeager’s Squadron (Red Dorks) flying f-86H aircraft (The Hog). Master Sergeant Buford Johnson’s abilities a Flight Chief and Supervisor was reflected by the condition of his assigned aircraft, the state of training of his Crew Chiefs, the amount of flying time that his aircraft logged each month and the high state of moral of his subordinates. On July 29, 1960 Master Sergeant Buford Johnson was assigned to the Air Force Test Center at Edwards Air Force Base, California. By 1961 he was a Senior Master Non-Commissioned Officer with other Master Sergeants and Technical Sergeants under his direct leadership. On December 21, 1962, while stationed at Edwards Air Force Base, Master Sergeant Buford Johnson, by direction of the Secretary of the Air Force, was awarded the Air Force Commendation Medal for Meritorious Service while assigned to the 417th Tactical Fighter Squadron.
Master Sergeant Buford Johnson remained at Edwards Air Force Base until July 1965 when he was assigned to Oxnard Air Force Base, California as the Non-Commissioned Officer in charge of Maintenance Control, where he remained until his retirement in August 1966.
For sixty years the sacrifices, brave and historical contributions of Johnson and the other Tuskegee Airmen went largely unnoticed by the nation…until, finally, on March 29, 2007, President George W. Bush presented the Congressional Gold Medal to nearly 300 of the Tuskegee Airmen at the U.S. Capitol.
Johnson was unable to attend the ceremony in Washington that day; however, on June 9, 2007, he received his Congressional Gold Medal during a ceremony at the March Field Air Museum in Riverside.
In 2014, Johnson participated in an event honoring veterans at Rancho Cucamonga High School. During his presentation, as reported by the Inland Valley Bulletin, he talked to the students about the obstacles he faced while serving in the military and encouraged them to, “Never give up, don’t quit.” In addition, he stressed the importance of believing in yourself as well as an aim.
That day, Johnson proudly told the students, “There are people who came before me, opened up the door for me, that can’t come…I want to tell them to pass on the legacy of [the] Tuskegee Airmen.”