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Former Tuskegee pilot Harold Brown, 92, enthralls aviation fans at CWHM

By Gord McNulty

Tuskegee Airmen veteran Lt Col retired Harold Brown 92 told his remarkable story at the Canadian Warplane Heritage Museum 575

Tuskegee Airmen veteran Lt Col (retired) Harold Brown, 92, told his remarkable story at the Canadian Warplane Heritage Museum.

A presentation by one of the few remaining Tuskegee Airmen, the first black military pilots and crewmen to serve the United States during the Second World War, drew a standing ovation at the Canadian Warplane Heritage Museum in August, 2016. Retired Lt. Col. Harold Brown, still sharp and displaying excellent recall and lively wit, came to the museum as one of the highlights during the five-day display of the Commemorative Air Force travelling exhibit, “Triumph over Adversity --- Rise Above,” ( The exhibit is designed to inspire youth to overcome obstacles in achieving their goals, as the Tuskegee Airmen did in rising above overt racism and prejudice, and to educate audiences across North America about the Tuskegee history and legacy.

Col. Brown, who now lives in Port Clinton, Ohio, is a native of Minneapolis, Minn. He “fell in love with airplanes” as a youngster and knew from Grade 6 that he wanted to be a pilot, even though at the time black men were regarded as incapable of flying for the military. His opportunity came in 1941 with the advent of the flight-training program at the Tuskegee Institute in Alabama. He recalled the aspiring aviators faced many obstacles, exemplified by instructors who described the students as “dummies.” The military brass played the numbers game to disadvantage black pilots and Col. Brown described flight training as a very sad experience for qualified black aviators whose ambitions and hopes were discouraged.

Col. Brown persevered to graduate in 1944, at 19 years of age, earning a place in the famed 332nd Fighter Group with the 99th Squadron. The 99th initially flew the P-40 Warhawk in Italy. Col. Brown flew combat operations, strafing targets on the ground and escorting bombers home. The Tuskegee Airmen later flew the P-51 Mustang and became known as the Red Tails with paint schemes that included all-red tail surfaces and red propeller spinners. Col. Brown described the strafing missions as the most dangerous. On his 12th mission, his fighter was hit by heavy ground fire while he and his wingman chased a Messerschmitt 262. Col. Brown managed to find an abandoned air strip. He walked away from his heavily damaged aircraft and made it back to base in six days.

Col. Brown was shot down in a P-51 on a strafing mission over Germany. He found himself in a harrowing situation, fearing for his life at the hands of enraged civilians seeking revenge. But a constable intervened and took him to a PoW camp south of Nuremberg. There, Col. Brown met a fellow airman, Lincoln Hudson, who had been beaten almost beyond recognition by a crowd and pretended he was dead before he was brought to the PoW camp. During his two months of imprisonment, Col. Brown was not tortured or beaten. In a YouTube video where he also tells his story, Col. Brown says the PoW camp was the first place where he didn’t experience segregation from white people.

A fiery start as flame momentarily erupts from the Merlin engine of the Commemorative Air Force P 51D Mustang Red Nose at the Canadian Warplane Heritage Museum August 2016 Gord McNulty

A fiery start as flame momentarily erupts from the Merlin engine of the Commemorative Air Force P-51D Mustang 'Red Nose' at the Canadian Warplane Heritage Museum, August 2016 (Gord McNulty)

American troops were advancing and the Germans evacuated the 10,000 prisoners to another camp at Moosburg, about 30 kilometres north of Munich. The trip took about 10-12 days and they were bunched into groups of 200. On April 29, 1945, General George Patton arrived at the camp, a couple of hours after the Germans pulled out.

Col. Brown said that he always felt very comfortable as a fighter pilot. However, one thing that made him uneasy was the possibility of engine failure on takeoff with a full load of fuel and ammunition. He said that although the Merlin was a wonderful engine, even the best would eventually malfunction. “The only thing we really sweated out,” Col. Brown recalled, was the initial 60 seconds of safely getting airborne and comfortably into flight.

Col. Brown remained in the U.S. Air Force until 1965, completing a distinguished career in which he volunteered to fly aircraft that had been returned to the U.S. for repairs before they went back to the Korean War. He flew 22 different aircraft, including the B-47 Stratojet. “The B-47 was difficult to fly, but they put redundancy in every system,” he recalled.

Col. Brown, who has displayed a passion for education and community service, also went on to earn a Ph.D, retiring from Columbus State Community College as Vice President of Academic Affairs. These remarkable experiences are the subject of a forthcoming book, co-authored with Dr. Marsha Bordner, Col. Brown’s wife. She is also an education professional, who retired as president of Terra State Community College in Fremont, Ohio.

During the exhibit, the CWHM also hosted a visit by Commemorative Air Force Squadron Leader Bill Shepard, of Woodstock, ON, flying the impressive CAF P-51D Mustang “Red Nose,” NL10601/USAF 473843. “Red Nose”, based at the CAF Dixie Wing in Peachtree City, Georgia, has a long and colourful history dating back to the closing days of the war. In fact, in 1951, the fighter entered service with the RCAF after it was dropped from the USAF inventory. After initial service with No. 416 “Lynx” Squadron (Regular) in Uplands, ON, it was assigned to No. 420 “Snowy Owl” Squadron (Auxiliary) in London, ON, where it served until 1956 before it returned to the U.S. “Red Nose” was officially donated to the CAF in 1977. It was restored in 1993 and is in excellent shape. It was assigned to the Dixie Wing in November 2002 and took to the air for the first time in four years in September, 2003.

Commemorative Air Force Red Tail Squadron Leader Bill Shepard Gord McNulty

Commemorative Air Force Red Tail Squadron Leader Bill Shepard at the 2016 Brantford air show, Aug. 31, in the CAF P-51D Mustang, Red Nose (Gord McNulty)

Following the exhibit at the CWHM, Bill --- past president/vice president of the Canadian Harvard Aircraft Association --- took “Red Nose” and the travelling exhibit to the Brantford Rotary Air Show on Aug. 31, another highly successful event.