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*Harold H. Brown was born on this date in 1924. He was a retired U.S. Army Air Force officer, World War II prisoner of war (POW), and former combat fighter pilot in Korea.
Harold Brown was born in Minneapolis, Minnesota. His parents were originally from Talladega, Alabama, but moved to Minnesota to escape Jim Crow segregation. Inspired by his 6th-grade dreams of becoming a pilot, the then-16-year-old high school junior Brown spent $35 in savings to take flight lessons at Wold-Chamberlain Field in 1941. Though his mother was angry about his expenditure, Brown's father defended Brown's decision as prudent of Brown's own volition. Though the neighborhood kids would tease and call him "Lindbergh,” Brown would come to appreciate the role of his early flight lessons.
After graduating from North High School in Minneapolis, Minnesota, Brown applied to U.S. military flight school. Though he passed the U.S. Army Air Corps' mental exam prerequisite, Brown failed the physical weight-height proportion prerequisite: The requirement mandated a weight no less than 128.5 pounds; Brown weighed 128.25 pounds. The attending physician advised Brown to drink an egg-filled ice cream malt the morning and evening before Brown's retest. After weighing 128.75 pounds during the retest, Brown passed his physical requirement, reporting four months later to the Tuskegee Air Force Base for pilot cadet training in December of 1942. On May 23, 1944, the 19-year-old Brown graduated from the Tuskegee pilot cadet training program's Class 44-E-SE, receiving his wings and commission as a 2nd Lieutenant, and he trained in the PT-17, BT-13, and AT-6 aircraft.
After completing 90-day combat and fighter training, Brown was assigned to the all-Black 99th Fighter Squadron of the 332nd Fighter Group, best known as the "Tuskegee Airmen" or "Red Tails. He would fly P-51 Mustang fighters in Italy and Western Europe. Brown flew combat missions in the P-47N Thunderbolt, P-38 Lightning, and the P-51 Mustang, C and D. On December 9, 1944, during Brown's 12th mission, Brown’s aircraft was struck by heavy anti-aircraft artillery. Severely losing fuel, Brown navigated his damaged aircraft into friendly territory, crash-landing onto an abandoned airstrip. He returned to his base six days later. On March 14, 1945, during Brown's 30th mission, he was shot down over snow-covered, German military-controlled territory. After bailing out of his badly damaged plane, Brown was captured in the same city where he destroyed a train with his aircraft guns.
Brown assumed the worst as his captives marched Brown to a crowd of angry villagers who were already making a noose to kill him. Fortunately, a German constable screamed to the mob, wielding a gun and demanding that Brown be treated as a prisoner of war. The constable barricaded himself and Brown in a building until the mob dispersed. Brown was eventually transferred to German military authorities. The Germans interrogated Brown at the prisoner of war (POW) camp, Nuremberg-Langwasser, south of Nuremberg, Germany. The Germans transferred Brown to the 86-acre, multinational Stalag VII-A, the largest prisoner-of-war camp in Nazi Germany during World War II. Brown was not tortured or beaten throughout his ordeal as a POW in Nazi Germany.
After World War II, Brown was stationed at Lockbourne AFB in Columbus, Ohio as an instructor. During the Korean War, the U.S. Air Force stationed Brown at the Far East Material Command in Tachikawa, Japan, where he flew missions to Taegu, Pusan, and Seoul. During one mission, Brown's F-80 experienced an explosive decompression, causing the canopy to separate along with the rudder. The incident left a two-inch gash on Brown's flight helmet. Fortunately, Brown could land the F-80 safely without incurring serious injuries. After the Korean War, the U.S. Air Force assigned Brown to the Tuskegee Army Airfield as a flight and electronics instructor.
Brown served at Strategic Air Command during the Cuban Missile Crisis, qualifying as a Boeing B-47 Stratojet Pilot. In 1965, Brown retired as a Lieutenant Colonel after 23 years of active-duty service. In 1965, Brown attended Ohio State University, earning a bachelor's degree in Mathematics. Brown worked at Clark Technical College and Gaston College as an instructor and chairman of the electronics department at Columbus State Community College in Columbus, Ohio.
He also earned a master’s and Ph.D. in vocational-technical education from Ohio State University. Brown became Columbus State Community College's Vice President of Academic Affairs, facilitating the community college's growth from 500 students to nearly 9,000 students for two decades. Brown is the co-author of Keep Your Airspeed Up: The Story of a Tuskegee Airman, co-written by his wife, Marsha S. Bordner.
Brown later founded Brown & Associates, an educational consulting firm that he ran for 26 years until the age of 88. He and every member of the Tuskegee Airmen received the Congressional Gold Medal in 2007. He lived in Port Clinton, Ohio, near Lake Erie with his wife, Marsha Bordner, retired president of Terra Community College in Fremont, Ohio.
Harold Brown died on January 12, 2023.