Col. Walter L. Watson, Jr., USAF (Retired) was born in Columbia, South Carolina. Upon graduating from Johnson High School, he attended Howard University in Washington, D.C earning a degree in Mechanical Engineering and a commissioning into the United States (US) Air Force as an Officer through the Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) program. Entering the US Air Force as an avionics maintenance officer, he was selected in 1973 for aviation training with a first assignment as a C-130E pilot in Southeast Asia during the Vietnam War. He later became a flight instructor and flight commander in tactical fighter and strategic reconnaissance squadrons that flew F-4C/D/E, F-111D, and SR-71 aircraft. Watson was the first and only African American to qualify as a crew member for the SR-71.