Former Tuskegee Airman Harold Brown spent Monday at Clark State Community College discussing his career in the military, including time he spent as a German prisoner of war.
Marsha Bordner, Brown’s wife, wrote his biography and together the pair have been touring the U.S. promoting the book, which was published earlier this year. Brown said he began flying after raising enough money for private lessons when he was only 16. But friends and neighbors was often told his dream was impossible because he is African American.
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“They always said, ‘They won’t even let you wash an airplane, let alone fly one,’” he said.
Brown, who also spoke to the Springfield Rotary Club on Monday, eventually served in the 332nd Fighter Group, where he flew 30 missions as a bomber-escort pilot before being shot down over Germany. The Tuskegee Airmen served as America’s first African American military pilots and are credited with serving with distinction throughout the war.
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Brown told the crowd about his capture after parachuting into Germany and how he was nearly killed by a mob. A local constable stepped in and delivered him to the German military. As a pilot, Brown said he had often strafed German trains from above. During his time as a POW, Brown now saw the other side when American pilots strafed a train he was traveling on.
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“There is nothing more terrifying than to be strafed,” Brown said.
When he arrived at a German POW camp, he was housed with fellow prisoners from all over the world.
“The joke was the first time I was integrated was in a POW camp,” Brown said.
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He was finally liberated by Gen. George Patton’s forces in 1945. After the war, Brown came home and continued in the Air Force fore more than 20 years, including serving in the Strategic Air Command. He eventually became interested in higher education.
Bordner, a former Clark State administrator, met Brown while they were both working in Springfield. She began recording his stories and is now promoting her book, “Keep Your Airspeed Up: The Story of a Tuskegee Airman.”
Brown grew up at a time when African Americans weren’t permitted to serve as pilots in the military but the Tuskegee Airmen proved they were more than capable of handling the missions they were assigned. They played a key role in the armed forces being desegregated in 1948, Bordner said.
“They laid the ground work for the Civil Rights movement,” Bordner said.