Thomas Richards was born on February 13, 1930, in San Diego, California. He enlisted in the U.S. Army on September 28, 1948, and was serving in Japan when the Korean War broke out in June 1950. Richards was wounded in action in July and again in September 1950, and returned to the United States in October 1950. He received an honorable discharge on May 21, 1952. For his service during the Korean War, Richards was promoted to Sgt First Class and was awarded the Bronze Star for Valor, two Purple Hearts, and the Combat Infantryman Badge. Richards was commissioned a 2d Lt in the U.S. Air Force through the Air Force ROTC Program at Virginia Polytechnic Institute on June 10, 1956, and he completed Undergraduate Pilot Training at Goodfellow AFB, Texas, in December 1957. After completing B-47 Stratojet Combat Crew Training, Lt Richards was assigned to the 524th Bomb Squadron of the 379th Bomb Wing and then the 659th Bomb Squadron of the 19th Bomb Wing, both at Homestead AFB, Florida, where he served from July 1958 to February 1961. His next assignment was with the 32nd Bomb Squadron and then then 352nd Bomb Squadron of the 301st Bomb Wing at Lockbourne AFB, Ohio, from February 1961 to May 1964. Capt Richards next completed B-52 Stratofortress Combat Crew Training and served with the 20th Bomb Squadron at Barksdale AFB, Louisiana and then at Carswell AFB, Texas, from May 1964 to April 1967. During this time, Maj Richards flew 23 combat missions in B-52's in Southeast Asia from July to November 1965. He next completed forward air controller training and Army jump school before being assigned as a forward air controller with the 101st Airborne Division and with the 56th Air Commando Wing at Udorn Royal Thai AFB, Thailand, from November 1967 to December 1968. During this time, Maj Richards also commanded the Raven FACs where he flew 601 combat missions in T-28 Trojan, O-1 Bird Dog, U-10, and U-17 aircraft. He was next assigned to the U.S. Air Force Academy, where he served from January 1969 to November 1972. He attended Army War College at Carlisle Barracks, Pennsylvania, from November 1972 to August 1973, and then became Wing Deputy Commander followed by commander of the Basic Military Training School at Lackland AFB, Texas, where he served from August 1973 to September 1975. Col Richards served at the Pentagon from September 1975 to October 1976, and then became Commander of the Air Force Reserve Personnel Center in Denver, Colorado, where he served until October 1977. He served as Vice Commandant of Cadets at the Air Force Academy from October 1977 to March 1978, and then as Commandant of Cadets from March 1978 to February 1981. Gen Richards then served as commander of the Air Force Recruiting Service at Randolph AFB, Texas, from March 1981 to March 1982, and then as Commander of the Keesler Technical Training Center at Keesler AFB, Mississippi, from March 1982 to September 1983. Gen Richards next served as Vice Commander of 8th Air Force at Barksdale AFB, Louisiana, from September 1983 to July 1984, when he became Commander of Air University. His final assignment was as Deputy Commander in Chief of U.S. European Command in Stuttgart-Vaihingen, West Germany, where he served from November 1986 until his retirement from the Air Force on September 30, 1989. Thomas Richards was the Administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration from 1992 to 1993.
His 2nd Silver Star Citation reads:
Major Thomas C. Richards distinguished himself by gallantry in connection with military operations against an opposing armed force as a Forward Air Controller in Southeast Asia on 8 February 1968. On that date, while piloting an O-1 aircraft, Major Richards executed a visual reconnaissance mission over a heavily defended hostile gun position. Encountering a pair of large field guns and their supporting units, Major Richards immediately attacked them with his smoke rockets. Sustaining three hits on his first pass, his fierce attack disrupted the gunners accuracy while destroying the two guns, two trucks and the ammunition in the position. Major Richards' daring attack not only deprived the hostile forces of the weapons and material but seriously damaged their morale while inspiring the friendly units and relieving them of the bombardment they had been receiving from the guns. By his gallantry and devotion to duty, Major Richards has reflected great credit upon himself and the United States Air Force.