WACO, Texas — The men of the 332nd Fighter Group broke through racial barriers of the 1940s and earned some of the highest honors of World War Two.
The Tuskegee Airmen were the first African American pilots of the armed services with about 1,000 black pilots flying for America between 1941 and 1946.
It's always been about breaking barriers for 98-year-old veteran Ira Walton
"I was drafted Aug. 16, 1943," Said Walton. "They placed me into the possibility of being a Tuskegee Airmen."
Before this time, African Americans could not be pilots and out of the racially motivated rejections of World War One.
The Tuskegee Airmen known as the "Red Tails" hit the skies and were sent to train and fly in Tuskegee, Alabama.
Boots on the ground in Alabama, Walton developed a fever.
"And the reviewing officer said maybe it's something physical and we missed it," Walton said. "He said well you couldn't fly a plane if you have a fever and drew a big red "x" on my physical and that was the end of my aspirations to be a pilot."
Walton's big dreams came crashing down.
"I volunteered to get out of the air corps and go to the army and I came back on active duty," Walton said. "Then the war in Korea started June in 1950."
Communist North Korea led by Kim Il Sung invaded capitalist South Korea in efforts to spread communism. President Truman pulled American troops in to back South Korea.
"In Korea, it was nothing like it is now, it was a third world country," Walton said. "Going there you'd feel so bad for yourself, and you'd just think 'why me' and we were making a push-to-push the Chinese back into North Korea. There were some Chinese, some place who would have been bypassed and they had marters, ad we started running and I got in a fox hole, you could tell the incoming sounded different, you could tell. Then I'd lay down in a fox hole and the Marter shell would come in and explode and then id raise up and then I'd get back down."
After his time in Korea, Walton returned back to his home in Central Texas. But he got called again. In Dec. 1967, he ended up being sent to Vietnam.
Again, for Walton, it's all about breaking barriers. He was one of the first African Americans to fly a plane in combat and at 98 years old he sat on this bench to share his story. A story alone, making history.