Sitting down with retired Lt. Col. Dr. Harold Brown is an increasingly rare opportunity.
Brown is not only among the diminishing World War II veteran population. He has an even more unique distinction: being a member of the Tuskegee Airmen.
He’s in his hometown of Port Clinton this week for Liberty Aviation Museum’s exhibit of the Red Tail squadron that runs through Saturday. Brown himself is one of the museum’s many attractions this week, as museum-goers can also check out its vintage B-17 bomber and Red Tail Squadron’s P-51C Mustang.
What better way for both kids and adults to learn about this revolutionary group of African-American fighter pilots than by hearing from one of their own.
Brown recalled a more ignorant time as he educated interested exhibit spectators.
He told them about a book of slander that influenced the public’s perception of African-Americans back in 1925. It was titled, “The Use of Negro Manpower in War,” published by the War College of the U.S. Army.
“It represented the lowest of the low (African-Americans),” Brown said. “The book generalized a population of about 10 million.” The memorandum portrayed African-Americans as un-trainable. It made assertions that black pilots and soldiers were a waste of federal dollars.
The publication had an effect on how the public viewed black soldiers, Brown said. Nonetheless, with World War II looming in Europe, six African-American colleges launched civilian-flight training programs in 1939.
As the story goes, Tuskegee College near Montgomery, Alabama emerged as the most well-known institute to host this program. This is where Brown and the other Tuskegee Airmen trained, and where Brown eventually graduated from in 1944.
The college gave the pilots training in the three main phases of pilot training: basic, advanced and transition. Tuskegee’s 99th squadron was deemed ready for combat in April 1943 when it joined the 33rd Fighter Group and its commander, William Momyer.
But the group failed in the eyes of bigots. African-Americans were further criticized for not shooting enough enemy aircrafts and for not protecting American bombers.
When it was time for Brown’s 332nd Fighter Group to setoff for Europe, his commander General Benjamin Oliver Davis told Brown and his peers exactly what to do. “We’re happy to have you,” Davis said when he first addressed Brown and the other airmen. “Now, don’t you ever leave a bomber,” Davis said passionately.
It was the Tuskegee Airmen’s duty to protect American bombers. On average, pilots of the bombers died after five missions.
Brown, Davis and the rest of Tuskegee Airmen helped change public perception by protecting these endangered aircrafts while going on the offensive when the enemy engaged. It’s how they got their nickname: “Red-Tail Angels”.
There is not an exhibit nearby quite like the one Liberty Aviation Museum has to offer.
It is the exhibit’s third year at the museum, but it is the first time it’s open during the school year. Students throughout Erie and Ottawa counties have been funneling through the museum’s doors, soaking in knowledge from Brown and the exhibit. The exhibit will be open every day until Saturday, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.