Richard Cornelius Caesar
April 12, 1918 – December 20, 2011
Unit: 100th Fighter Squadron
Richard Cornelius Caesar was a prominent San Francisco, California dentist, philanthropist/civic leader, U.S. Army Air Corps/U.S. Air Force officer, combat fighter pilot, and engineering officer with the 332nd Fighter Group’s 100th Fighter Squadron, best known as the famed Tuskegee Airmen, “Red Tails,” or “Schwartze Vogelmenschen” (“Black Birdmen”) among enemy German pilots.
One of 1,007 documented Tuskegee Airmen Pilots, Caesar was one of the first-ever African-Americans to fly a combat aircraft. He was a member of Tuskegee’s sixth cadet graduating class and one of the first 50 African American combat fighter pilots in history. He was notable for being the Arkansas’s second-ever African American combat fighter pilot. Fellow pilot Herbert V. Clark was the first of the Tuskegee Airmen from Arkansas. He is also notable for saving decorated Tuskegee Airman Roscoe Brown from a potentially fatal aircraft crash.
Caesar — along with every member of the Tuskegee Airmen — received the Congressional Gold Medal in 2007. In 2019, Stewart co-wrote “Soaring to Glory: A Tuskegee Airman’s Firsthand Account of World War II,” co-written by Philip Handleman.
In 1984, Caesar was the Young Men’s Christian Association-San Francisco’s Humanitarian of Year award
Early Life, Family, Education
Caesar was born on April 12, 1918 in Lake Village, Arkansas, Chicot County. He was the son of Robert C. Caesar and Lenora Campbell Caesar.
Caesar attended high school at Arkansas State College. In 1940, Richard graduated from Morehouse College in Atlanta, Georgia where he was initiated at the Pi Chapter of Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity Inc. in December 1939.
In 1956, Caesar married famed concert pianist and fashion model Lois Towles (April 4, 1912 – March 18, 1983), who trained under famed composer and pianist Arthur Rubinstein and Nadia Boulanger at the American Fontainebleau Schools. They were married until her untimely death on March 18, 1983. They had no children.
Caesar later married Jeralene Elaine Williams Gilchrist-Caesar (1945–2013). He had one stepson Jonathan Gilchrist.
Military Career, Tuskegee Airmen
On September 6, 1942, Caesar graduated from the Tuskegee Flight School’s Single Engine Section Class SE-42-H, earning his wings and a commission as a 2nd Lieutenant. The U.S. Army Air Corps assigned Caesar to the 100th Fighter Squadron.
One of 1,007 documented Tuskegee Airmen Pilots, Caesar was a member of Tuskegee’s sixth cadet graduating class and one of the first 50 African American combat fighter pilots in history. He was the cadet classmate of Robert W. Deiz, best known as the face of the popular 1943 “Keep Us Flying” World War II War Bonds poster created by Betsy Graves Reyneau, a white artist known for her portraits of prominent African Americans that circulated as part of the Harmon Foundation’s traveling exhibition in the 1940s.
In 1943, Caesar and crew chief Marcellus G. Smith saved fellow pilot Roscoe Brown from a potentially fatal aircraft crash. Brown would go on to earn a Distinguished Flying Cross for heroics on a photographic reconnaissance mission over Munich, Germany on February 25, 1945
After World War II, Caesar served in Korea. He retired from the U.S. Air Force with the rank of Lt Colonel.
Post-Military Career, Dental Career, Civic Leader
In 1951, Caesar graduated from Meharry Medical College]]’s Dentistry School, graduating in 1951. He relocated to the San Francisco, California metropolitan area in Foster City, California.
Practicing Dentistry for over 40 years. Caesar served as the President of the San Francisco Dental Society, the Northern California Medical and Dental and Pharmaceutical Association, and chair of the Pacific Area Section of the Academy of Dentistry International.
Caesar also served as a lifetime governor of the San Francisco Symphony, and Board Chairman of the Buchanan Branch Young Men’s Christian Association of San Francisco.
Caesar’s first wife, Lois, served as a Director of the San Francisco Symphony Foundation.
A prominent philanthropist, Caesar donated over $100,000 to his alma mater, Meharry Medical College. In 1984, he was the Young Men’s Christian Association-San Francisco’s Humanitarian of Year award.
- Morehouse College’s prestigious Bennie Trailblazer Award – 2009.
- The Buchanan YMCA gymnasium renamed the “Dr. Richard C. Caesar Gymnasium”.
- Young Men’s Christian Association-San Francisco’s Humanitarian of Year award – 1984.
The Tuskegee Airmen are leaving a double legacy: As patriotic Americans and as a generation of Americans who know it’s important to mentor young people and support their community.
“You only live one life, and it goes fast,” said airmen Leslie Williams. “Make the most of it if you can.”
Caesar has joined what the Tuskegee Airmen call the Lonely Eagles. He will not be forgotten, nor will his legacy.