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Harold Brown, Tuskegee Airman Who Faced a Lynch Mob, Dies at 98

One of the last surviving Black pilots from that celebrated group, he was surrounded by an angry mob after parachuting from his P-51 over Austria during World War II. ( More...

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Ken Kaiser 17
Thank you for your amazing service, Lt. Colonel Brown. Rest now in eternal peace with all your amazing Tuskegee Airmen brothers. As a corporate pilot, in 2007 I flew some folks to the Gathering of Mustangs Airshow in Columbus, Ohio. Many of the surviving Tuskegee Airmen were honored at that event. Turns out I was staying in the same hotel as the Airmen. One evening I had the distinct honor and privilege of meeting and visiting with another Tuskegee Airman, Lt. Colonel Alexander Jefferson for over an hour. Like Col Brown, Alex was shot down toward the end of the war and was a German POW for several months. Needless to say, listening to his life story kept me on the edge of my seat. I purchased his book, "Red Tail captured, Red Tail free" that evening on the spot. Born November 15, 1921, Col Jefferson died on June 22, 2022 at the age of 100. Thank you for your service, Alex, and for sharing with me your amazing life.
Pamela Howard 20
Very annoying not to be able to read this story.
Annette Traicos 15
I seems nothing is free nowadays. very irritating
Leander Williams 3
You can read it from another [non-annoying paid page]
Joseph Pendleton 2
Thank you
Ian Edge 8
Best just Google it folks 👌
FlightAware: Why are you posting a story on here that requires a subscription to read the article?
Lisa Sarenduc 1
For each NY Times article, you can google the title and get it from another source, always.
MSReed 9
It's sad to see this heroic band of brothers lose another. Their bravery had untold dimensions.
Michael Meyers 3
Harold Brown, Tuskegee Airman Who Faced a Lynch Mob, Dies at 98
One of the last surviving Black pilots from that celebrated group, he was surrounded by an angry mob after parachuting from his P-51 over Austria during World War II.

As a Tuskegee Airman during World War II, he said, he knew that “we cannot fail.”Credit...Sheri Trusty/USA Today Network

By Sam Roberts
Jan. 28, 2023

Harold H. Brown, who as a teenager overcame racial prejudice in the American South to become an Army Air Corps fighter pilot during World War II — a member of the famed Tuskegee Airmen — only to be downed over Austria and face a lynch mob of vengeful villagers, died on Jan. 12 in Huron, Ohio. He was 98.

His death, at a nursing home, was confirmed by his wife, Marsha Bordner.

Dr. Brown flew 30 missions during the war in Europe and later served in the Korean War. He spent 23 years in the military before retiring, earning a doctorate and becoming a college administrator.

He was one of the last surviving members of the Tuskegee Airmen, a group that included 355 pilots who served in segregated units operating from the war’s Mediterranean theater after beginning their training at the historically Black Tuskegee Institute in Alabama. Fewer than 10 are still living, according to Tuskegee Airmen Inc., an organization dedicated to preserving their legacy.

After taking off from Italy at dawn on March 14, 1945, Dr. Brown, a second lieutenant at the time, was piloting a P-51 Mustang strafing a German freight train near Linz, Austria, when the locomotive exploded, hurling shrapnel into the engine of his single-propeller plane.

With only seconds before his plane lost power, he bailed out and parachuted to safety. But he landed not far from his target, where he was apprehended by two armed local constables and was soon surrounded by a furious mob of some two dozen Austrians whose town he and his comrades had just attacked.

“I was met by perhaps 35 of the most angry people I’ve ever met in my life,” Dr. Brown said on the PBS podcast “American Veteran.” “There’s no doubt murder’s on their mind.”

“It was clear that they finally decided to hang me,” he recalled in a memoir, “Keep Your Airspeed Up: The Story of a Tuskegee Airman” (2017), which he wrote with his wife. “They took me to a perfect hanging tree with a nice low branch and they had a rope. I can still visualize that tree today.

“I knew at that moment I was going to die.”

But he was rescued from the vigilantes by a third constable, who threatened to fire on the crowd to protect Dr. Brown as a prisoner of war.

The two men barricaded themselves in a bar overnight before Dr. Brown was jailed. He shared a cell with crew members from a downed bomber, one of whom was Jewish (as Dr. Brown’s great-grandfather had been) and was worried that he would be singled out by his captors.

Dr. Brown urged the Jewish crew member not to reveal his religion — a tactic that was not available to Dr. Brown himself.

“Here I am scared to death,” Dr. Brown recalled. “I said to him, ‘Keep your mouth shut.’ I said, ‘I don’t have a way and they hate me as much as they hate you.’”

Dr. Brown was turned over to military authorities and served six weeks in prison camps until being liberated when the war ended.

Harold Haywood Brown was born on Aug. 19, 1924, in Minneapolis to parents who had fled racial prejudice in Alabama. His father, John, was a supervisor for Archer Daniels Midland, the food processing company. His mother, Allie (Heath) Brown, worked as a maid.

An aviation buff since the sixth grade (his classmates nicknamed him Lindbergh), Harold refused to continue practicing the piano as his mother hoped he would. Instead he saved $35 in earnings as a soda jerk to take seven flying lessons.

After he graduated from high school in 1942, he applied to join the experimental program that had been established to demonstrate that Black people could qualify as airmen. But he flunked the physical because he weighed four ounces below the 128.5-pound minimum for his height.

Taking his doctor’s advice, he regularly drank a concoction of ice cream, malt and an egg. He was retested, weighed in at 128.75 and was accepted as a Tuskegee Airman.

Traveling to the South for the first time, he felt the effects of Jim Crow discrimination outside the segregated Army base where he trained. At 19, on May 23, 1944, he graduated from flight school as a second lieutenant with the 332nd Fighter Group and shipped off to Italy.

One of 32 Tuskegee Airmen captured during the war, he was imprisoned at a camp near Nuremberg, which the Germans evacuated as American troops advanced. He was then transferred to Stalag VII-A, north of Munich. An armored division led by Gen. George S. Patton liberated them on April 29, 1945.

When he returned to the South and to Fort Patrick Henry in Virginia, Dr. Brown recalled on the “American Veteran” podcast, “we got off the boat, everything was the same. Patrick Henry was still a segregated base, no changes, no nothing, just the way I left it.”

During the Korean War, Dr. Brown was stationed in Tokyo and flew missions from bases in South Korea. He later served as a flight instructor at Tuskegee Army Airfield in Alabama and at Lockbourne Air Force Base near Columbus, Ohio, which by then was integrated, and qualified as a Strategic Air Command B-47 bomber pilot.

He retired from the Air Force as a lieutenant colonel in 1965.

“The first time I was integrated was in a P.O.W. camp,” Dr. Brown said. “I lived in an integrated base in the military, leave the base and went home to a segregated civilian life.”

After his military service, he earned a bachelor’s degree in mathematics from Ohio University and a master’s and doctorate in vocational-technical education from the Ohio State University. He became an instructor and chairman of the electronics department at Columbus Area Technician’s School, which was later chartered as Columbus State Community College. He retired from academia in 1986.

“I’ve always had a passion for learning, for setting goals and achieving them, for being as good or better than others in like circumstances around me,” he wrote in his memoir.

In 2007, he and other Tuskegee Airmen were awarded the Congressional Gold Medal. In 2020, he was inducted into the Minnesota Aviation Hall of Fame.

In addition to his wife, Dr. Bordner, a former president of Terra State Community College in Fremont, Ohio, he is survived by a daughter, Karen Jackson, from his marriage to Maxine Gilmore, which ended in divorce; a stepson, Jonathan Bordner; and two grandsons. Another daughter, Denise Brown, died before him.

The Tuskegee Airmen knew they had to be as good as their white counterparts, if not better. “It was felt that this big experiment was going to fail and fall flat on its face. They’ll never make it as pilots,” Dr. Brown told The Plain Dealer of Cleveland in 2019. “That was really one of our biggest motivations, that we cannot fail.”

The Tuskegee Airmen’s success was credited with accelerating the integration of the armed forces.

“What the Tuskegee Airmen did is not Black history,” Dr. Brown told The Plain Dealer. “It’s not military history. It’s American history.”
Derryck Anderson 3
Michael Stansfield 5
Paywall. :-(
Larry Toler 12
Anything by NY Times, WSJ, Washington Post, etc will always be a pay wall. I just go to my Google browser with name or subject and get stories that way.
matt jensen 4
Leander Williams 1
Me too.
Joe Serdynski 6
Bandrunner 2
I gifted this link for free to anyone who wants to read the NYT article.
SmittySmithsonite 3
NYT aggravates me ...
Joel Rugeno 3
Good thing the mob wasn’t the kind one sees in some American cities. RIP Dr. Brown and thanks for your service
Jim McGlynn 1
It is very sad to hear of the loss of another of these fine men.They did a great job and overcame many hurdles. I would really recommend visiting the Tuskegee Airmen National Site, my friend and I were on a road trip about 7 years ago when we saw the sign for it on the freeway, we thought it rude not to visit. It was very quiet the day we visited {mid week} but it was a very good exhibit and it shhould the whole Tuskegee project wasn't just about pilots. They basically trained a whole functioning airfiled from administrators to mechanics and flying instructors and pilots and every other job needed to keep the place running. The spirit and success that the project did should be better advertised to honour the men like Dr Brown and all the other people involved.
victorbravo77 1
Try this link:
William Bingham 1
That worked.
Ken Riehl 1
Try this link…
Joel Rugeno -1
Good thing the mob wasn’t the kind one sees in some American cities
C Anderson 0
NYT dishoners Lt. Colonel Brown by hiding his story behind their money grubbing paywall. I say NO to the nyt, now and always.
Leander Williams -1
I am so annoyed with Flightaware and Facebook for posting stories that you have to find alternate sites to read articles on because the NY Times, Washington Post, and many others are CHARGING you to read their articles. Why do I need to pay for a subscription for an East Coast publication when I am in San Diego? You can read a free account here...
victorbravo77 1
As a subscriber to the NYTimes, I will only post links that can be read without a paywall.


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