ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – One of the youngest pilots to fly in World War II lives in Albuquerque. Earl Richards hasn’t lost his love of flying the friendly skies, and his favorite company just made the 92-year-old veteran’s dreams come true.
You’ll find Richards once a week at the Sheraton Albuquerque Uptown.
“Oh, I love this hotel,” he said.
He’s a regular here because this is where the Southwest Airlines crew members stay when they’re in Albuquerque. Richards has been a huge fan of Southwest, regularly expressing his gratitude to the crew in the hotel lobby.
“Be happy and kind,” he said of his outlook on life. “I get a big smile from them. They love it,” he said.
Richards enlisted in the U.S. Navy at age 17 and flew in World War II, developing a passion as a pilot and a love for being airborne.
Thankful for Richards, Southwest Airlines surprised him with a VIP tour of their headquarters.
He was flown last week from Albuquerque to Dallas and delighted other passengers with his singing and optimism.
“If you have any problem, I’ll be in the third seat to help you. So don’t worry, be happy,” he announced on the intercom to the cabin.
The trip was especially touching because Richards was born in Dallas, and he went through his military training at Love Field 73 years ago.
The staff members at Southwest clapped upon his arrival, and then he sat in a simulator, landing a plane.
“I was so excited and happy, and you couldn’t believe it,” Richards said about his trip.
He loves to sing, “When You’re Smiling.” But he, too, has triumphed over tragedy.
Richard’s wife and daughter were among five who died in 1972 in a small plane crash in Atlanta on their way to Florida.
“I was very depressed. I was flabbergasted. I didn’t know what to do,” he said.
Richards ended up in Albuquerque and persevered.
“Twelve years ago I became legally blind,” he said. But he still keeps a positive outlook on life and still plays golf.
“When you’re smiling, the whole world smiles with you,” he sings.
He said he hopes to live to at least 100, and in the meantime, you can find Richards Thursday afternoon at the Sheraton hotel bar with his cranberry juice waiting for his on-time arrival for his “flight family.”
Richards lived most of his adult life in Chicago, where he worked in the catering business. The last time he flew an aircraft was in the early nineties here in New Mexico, with an enlisted pilot, when he volunteered to help Kirtland move a plane during Operation Desert Storm.