German major had concluded that Brown was in the 99th
Squadron and that, given his age, he must have graduated the
previous year in class 44C, 44D, 44E or 44F.
graduate of class 44E and member of the 99th, munched on his
sweet orange in silence wondering at that time how the
Germans had obtained such information.
so much, ‘let me give you some advice’ he told me,” recalled
Brown. “’This war is going to end in the next three to four
months. You are going to be transferred to [a prisoner of
war camp]. Keep your nose clean... don’t try to escape or
give a guard any reason to shoot you.’”
major, who also told Brown that his own goal was to try to
get to the United States after the war, was nothing if not
unerringly accurate in his assessment of the status of the
war. Brown, along with about 10,000 other Allied prisoners,
was forced marched to his new home at Stalag VII-A in
Moosberg and remained there until May 3 or 4 when General
George Patton and his 3rd Army arrived to
liberate the prisoners of war.
no idea what happened to the German officer who extended
more courtesies to him than just about any white American
officer, or enlisted man for that fact, would during those
days when black soldiers, sailors and airmen knew nothing
but segregation and constant derision of the notion that
they were matches for their white counterparts on the
battlefields of World War II.
German fighter pilots knew about the “red tails” as did the
American bomber pilots. The American public would not know
about the unit until 1995 when Bob Williams, Brown’s 44E
classmate, would finally get his screenplay produced and his
story told about the Tuskegee Airmen in an HBO movie
starring Laurence Fishburne. Fifty years after he was shot
down in Germany, Brown and his fellow heroes finally emerged
from behind the cloak of secrecy in which they had been
December 1998, President Bill Clinton presented General
Benjamin O. Davis, Jr., the commanding officer of the 332nd
Fighter Group and the first African-American general of the
Air Force, with a fourth star and celebrated the Tuskegee
Airmen’s collective heroism.
of this year, President George W. Bush presented the pilots
the Congressional Medal of Honor.
“I have a
strong interest in World War II airmen,” said Bush during
that ceremony on March 29, 2007. “I was raised by one. He
flew with a group of brave young men who endured difficult
times in the defense of our country. Yet for all they
sacrificed and all they lost, in a way, they were very
fortunate, because they never had the burden of having their
every mission, their every success, their every failure
viewed through the color of their skin. Nobody told them
they were a credit to their race. Nobody refused to return
their salutes. Nobody expected them to bear the daily
humiliations while wearing the uniform of their country.”
praised the Tuskegee Airmen for doing so much for a nation
that had done so little for them and he told the story of
one such pilot who had sacrificed virtually all of his
worldly possessions in order to get to the training site to
become a pilot. It’s a story with which Brown was thoroughly
own love of flying was instilled at an early age when he
dreamed of becoming a pilot while building model airplanes
and reading books such as “The Life of a Flying Cadet,” a
book Brown read so often he said later he could probably
recite it from memory.
Minneapolis native, Brown volunteered in 1942, at the tender
age of 17, for the Army Air Corps in order to become an
airman. He was still in high school at the time. He passed
the written test easily, but flunked the physical.
weighed 128 and one quarter pounds,” said Brown. “You needed
to weigh 128 and a half pounds. I couldn’t believe they
would reject me over a quarter pound.”
examiner did clue Brown in on how to pass the physical when
he would be permitted to retake it in a week’s time.
me if I liked chocolate malteds, which of course I did,”
said Brown. “He told me ‘on Wednesday, start early with a
chocolate malted in the morning and one in the evening and
put a raw egg in both of them.’”
as he was advised and on the following week, he had
ballooned up to 128 and three quarters pound, safely passing
the physical by a quarter pound.
leave for Biloxi, MS in December 1942 to start his flying
lessons, graduating in 1944 when he went overseas to Italy
to begin flying his 30 missions.
war, Brown re-enlisted in what would become the Air Force.
He remained in the military for 23 years. He earned a
bachelor’s of science degree in math from Ohio University
and his master’s and doctoral degrees from The Ohio State
joined Columbus State Community College as the vice
president for academic affairs in the mid 1960’s when the
two-year institution had 67 students and was located in a
basement. He retired about 20 years ago having witnessed the
school become the third largest community college in Ohio.
Today CSCC has over 24,000 students.
retirement doesn’t ex-actly describe Brown’s current status.
He formed a consulting company and the curriculum specialist
stays on the road these days visiting two-year institutions
around Ohio. And he stays in touch, of course, with the rest
of the surviving members of the Tuskegee Airmen. At one
time, there was only one group of airmen in Ohio,
headquartered in Columbus.
years, pilots along the Ohio north coast formed their own
group, as did those clustered in Cincinnati, in order to cut
down on the travel.
reunions continue. Brown cites estimates that under 30
percent of the original 992 trained pilots are still alive.
In the last several months, Toledo lost its only Tuskegee
Airman resident and Detroit lost Richard Macon whom this
newspaper featured back in 2002. In his home on Catawba
Island, as he spoke of the war days and the exploits of the
pilots, Brown pulled out a miniature replica of a Mustang
P-51 in which the Tuskegee Airmen flew so many sorties. The
model has the familiar “red tail” that the black pilots
painted on in order to identify their group. Near the door
of the model plane is a replica of a bit of writing that
then-Captain Davis painted on his own plane and that message
is a reference to the fact that white bomber pilots kept
insisting more and more that the red tails escort them on
their particular missions as the war went on. It’s also a
reference to the fact that their nation, however
reluctantly, had called upon them for their assistance.
two-word message describes ultimately just why the Tuskegee
Airmen were in that place at that time.
there ... “by request.”