At 17 years of age, and serving as a cadet in the Civil Air Patrol, Nelson voluntarily enlisted in the United States Army Air Corps (USAAC) at Smokey Hill AAB, Salina Kansas, in February 28, 1946. He began Basic Training at Shepherd AAB, Texas and finished at Scott Field, Illinois. He then completed aircraft mechanics school at Keelser Field, Mississippi and P-47 fighter aircraft specialist school at Chanute Field, Illinois. He was then assigned to Lockbourne Army Air Base, Columbus, OH; an all-black military base which was commanded then by Colonel Benjamin O. Davis, Jr. At Lockbourne, Nelson was assigned as a P-47N (Jug) fighter aircraft, flight line “Crew Chief,” in the famous all-black 99th Fighter Squadron of the 477th Composite Group & the 332nd Fighter Group known formally as the “Tuskegee Airmen,” which Nelson proudly was.

In 1949, Nelson became one of the first black aircraft mechanics to be integrated in the U.S. Air Force (USAF) in compliance with a directive signed by President Truman in 1948 to “integrate the armed forces.” Upon leaving the 99th Fighter Squadron (Tuskegee Airmen), then S/Sgt. Robinson was assigned to the 4th Fighter (All Weather) Squadron at Naha Air Force Base, Okinawa as an assistant aircraft Crew Chief to Charles Chenault, briefly on a P-61 (Black Widow) type aircraft and subsequently an F-82G Twin Mustang. Charles Chenault was the youngest son of former Major General Claire Chenault (who was Commander of the Flyer Tigers who flew in support of China against the Japanese just prior to WWII). In short order, Nelson was assigned as Aircraft Flight Line Crew Chief on his own Twin Mustang.

Nelson subsequently trained and flew as a Flight Engineer. He later passed written exams for Aviation Cadet training, and flew class 3 flying on such aircraft as the C-119 Cargo, B-25 & B-26 Medium Bomber type aircraft.

Nelson has also held duties as Aircraft Flight Chief, Dock Chief, Assistant Periodic Inspection Section Chief, Specialist Chief, Flight Line Chief, Aircraft Records Section NCOIC, Aircraft Quality Control Inspector and Wing Unsatisfactory Report Monitor. He has served as an Aircraft Maintenance Technician on T-33, T-37, T-38, F-105, F-4 & B-57 jet aircraft. In addition to being assigned to various USAF bases in North America, Nelson also served in Europe, Asia and North Africa.

Nelson retired from the Air Force as a Master Sergeant on September 1, 1968 after 22 ½ years of continuous service. At the times of his honorable discharge, two of the five Performance Reports in his military records, rated him as “outstanding,” and the remaining three rated him as “exceptional.” Nelson passed the 9-level exam required to ascend to Chief Master Sergeant.

He has received a U.S. Congressional “Distinguished Service” award, awards from California State Assembly, SD County Board of Supervisors, Mayor of the City of San Diego, and the San Diego Minority Purchasing council to name a few. On March 29, 2007, President George W. Bush awarded the U.S. Congressional Gold Medal to all Tuskegee Airmen who served with their groups, which Nelson was a recipient of as well.