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Surviving Tuskegee Pilot describes service, time as POW

Tuskegee Airman

Original Tuskegee Airman, Lt. Col. Harold Brown takes questions from the audience during a virtual appearance at the 332nd Air Expeditionary Wing, Feb. 17, 2021. The appearance coincided with Black History Month and featured questions from young service members, commanders as well as current F-15E pilots currently deployed to the Middle East. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Master Sgt. Jefferson Thompson)

Tuskegee Airman

Forty of the newest Airmen deployed to the 332nd Air Expeditionary Wing in the Middle East welcome one of the original Tuskegee Airmen, virtually, who would explain his role in pioneering the wing during WWII, Feb. 17, 2021. The wing began as a segregated unit during the war and earned as exemplary record of service, which some say helped speed the desegregation of the Armed Forces under President Harry S Truman. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Master Sgt. Jefferson Thompson)

Tuskegee Airman

The newest Airmen deployed to the Middle East at the 332nd Air Expeditionary Wing listed to the career of original Tuskegee Airman, Lt. Col. Harold Brown, during a virtual appearance, Feb. 17, 2021. The appearance coincided with Black History Month and featured questions from young service members, commanders as well as current F-15E pilots currently deployed to the Middle East. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Master Sgt. Jefferson Thompson)

Tuskegee Airman

The newest Airmen deployed to the Middle East at the 332nd Air Expeditionary Wing listed to the career of original Tuskegee Airman, Lt. Col. Harold Brown, during a virtual appearance, Feb. 17, 2021. The appearance coincided with Black History Month and featured questions from young service members, commanders as well as current F-15E pilots currently deployed to the Middle East. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Master Sgt. Jefferson Thompson)

332nd AIR EXPEDITIONARY WING --

A pilot who fought Germans in WWII, got shot down and captured and survived to tell about it, met virtually with deployed Airmen at the 332nd AEW yesterday.

Lt. Col. Harold Brown is a founding member of the 332nd AEW, the segregated wing made famous by the Tuskegee Airmen whose exemplary record helped spur the racial integration of the armed forces in July 1948.

In honor of Black History Month, the wing diversity and inclusion council arranged for Brown to call into a gathering of Airmen who asked him questions for an hour.

“As a person of color during that era what were some of the most significant challenges you faced?,” asked Airman First Class Ayaii Houston.

“Well,” he said with a chuckle, “you have to understand in those days we had a totally segregated society.  Not only was it by law but it was by tradition.”

He went on to say that in his eyes it was “simply the way it was” and he accepted it.

One year after President Truman integrated the armed forces, he reported to Japan and his commander, a U.S. Air Force colonel, summoned his to his office.

“He told me right up front ‘Harold, I don’t believe in integration. You’ll have to prove yourself to me,’” said Brown. “Well I had an outstanding year to be quite honest with you and we had a conversation about a year later and he told me what a fine job I’d done.”

He was promoted to the rank of major early at that point.

A common theme in the questions was how he dealt with adversity and racial discrimination and his answers largely indicate he simply paid it little mind. When it came to promotions he gave a short account of his philosophy, “If that yoyo can become a captain, then I know doggone well I can become a captain,” he said of his time as a 1st lieutenant, a big smile on his face.

Although he ignored his adverse circumstances, he did admit that becoming a prisoner of war was a personal reckoning. Ejecting over the same city where he strafed and destroyed a train, he was captured and marched before the apoplectic townspeople.

“I was looking death right in the face,” he said. “They had even selected what looked like the perfect hanging tree—I just accepted the fact, ‘Harold you are going to die’, and that is not an easy thing.”

He said it was the scariest thing that has ever happened to him. He was saved by one of his captors who insisted that he be treated as a prisoner-of-war and not executed. He was freed when Gen. George Patton rolled into his prison camp in a tank.

Through his answers he revealed his approach to life - that he was goal oriented not willing to waste time complaining or moping - that he overcame obstacles through hard work, determination and a good attitude and perhaps one can deduce that he remained in good spirits even in the face of capture, overt racism and even faced with death.

The evening finished out with him visiting with several F-15E pilots in the deployed location and at one point he said with obvious enthusiasm that he wished he were in their shoes, flying the Strike Eagle.

He answered questions ranging from racial disparity, to the types of aircraft he flew, but perhaps the best summary of his service are the words he spoke when he looked back at his career at a much older age, “Boy, we really made a difference.”

 

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