Veterans

Tuskegee Airman fought for U.S., against segregation

By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN BG Independent News   During World War II, black pilots weren’t allowed to fly with whites in the U.S. Army Air Force. When they returned from war, those same black pilots weren’t allowed to fly commercial airlines. As a Tuskegee Airman, one of the first places Dr. Harold Brown experienced true integration was in a German prisoner of war camp. There, he starved behind the barbed wire right along with the white POWs. Brown, who now lives in Port Clinton, flew 30 missions as a fighter pilot before being shot down over Germany. He spoke Friday during Bowling Green’s annual Dr. Martin Luther King program that had been delayed due to bad weather earlier this year. Brown, now 93, is the focus of the book, “Keep Your Airspeed Up,” written by his wife, Dr. Marsha Bordner. The book follows her husband’s life as a black man growing up in America, as one of the famous Tuskegee Airmen, and as a college administrator. Brown’s parents fled Alabama during the great migration of black Americans headed north in search of less segregated lives. They ended up in Minnesota, where Brown grew up in a neighborhood of people who were Jewish, Swedish, Polish and Latino. It was there that Brown’s dream to fly was born. “When I was in the sixth grade, I woke up one day and decided I wanted to fly airplanes,” he said. He began building models and repeatedly read a library book on flight. “I almost memorized it,” he said. At age 16, Brown saved up $35 and took flying lessons. Other kids ridiculed his dream. “They won’t even let you wash an airplane, let alone fly an airplane,” he was told. But it turned out his country needed him at age 17, when WWII started.  Even then, the rules were different. Brown passed the test for the reserves – which protected white men from the draft. “I had to wait and sweat it out,” he said. When he told his mom that he was headed to Mississippi for military training, “it got interesting,” Brown said. His parents had fled that part of the country, where segregation was the tradition and the law. His mom warned him how to behave, with plenty of “Yes mams” and “No sirs.” It didn’t take Brown long to realize his mom was right, when he encountered different services for “white” and “colored” people as soon as he got off the train. “This is what Mom was talking about,” he said. There, Brown was trained as part of the legendary Tuskegee Airmen. “We were the best kept secret in the Air Force. Nobody ever heard of us,” he said. The tragedy is now that many people know about the black fighter pilots, few of the men are still around to…

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