Tuskegee Airman describes service, time as POW during virtual call with 332nd AEW
By 332nd Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs
/ Published February 21, 2021
SOUTHWEST ASIA (AFNS) --
A pilot who fought Germans in WWII, was shot down, captured and survived to tell about it, met virtually with deployed Airmen at the 332nd Air Expeditionary Wing, Feb. 17.
Retired 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 1st 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 Harry S. Truman integrated the armed forces, Brown reported to Japan and his commander, a U.S. Air Force colonel, summoned him to his office.
“He told me right up front ‘Harold, I don’t believe in integration. You’ll have to prove yourself to me,’” Brown said. “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.”
Brown was promoted to the rank of major soon after that point.
A common theme in the questions from the Airmen 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 yo-yo can become a captain, then I know doggone well I can become a captain,” he said of his time as a first lieutenant and with 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,” Brown 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 Brown 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 with Brown visiting with several F-15E Strike Eagle pilots in the deployed location. At one point he said with obvious enthusiasm that he wished he were in their shoes, flying the aircraft.
Brown 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.”