It could be easy to put the memories of a war 75 years in the past up on a dusty shelf somewhere, relegated to tired history books and the classics of cinema. As we drift further away from this era and lose evermore the voices of those who lived it, their experiences should serve our generation and the ones to come as a guidepost so we can appreciate our progress and inoculate ourselves from the mistakes of our past.
Dr. Harold Brown has encapsulated his experience as a World War II aviator in his new book, “Keep Your Airspeed Up: The Story of a Tuskegee Airman.” As part of our nation’s first African American military pilots, Brown saw action overseas, including being captured as a prisoner of war, but remained a second-class citizen upon returning home a war hero. The vice grip of racism that he’d briefly escaped to become a top-notch aviator would allow for the better treatment of white German POWs than for him and his fellow Tuskegee Airmen when they returned stateside.
The Tuskegee Airmen of World War II had to work harder than their counterparts for the opportunity to fly and fight for their country. Yet their experience helped pave the way for the desegregation of the Armed Forces in 1948, almost 20 years before the United States would begin to unravel the Jim Crow laws that had enforced segregation and discrimination against black Americans for generations. The Tuskegee Airmen were pioneers for social justice and civil rights, even though their experience went virtually unknown decades.
The story Brown has to share is as relevant today as it was all those years ago. His narrative is one of overcoming adversity to achieve success, even with the odds stacked against you. It’s a lesson in inspiration, one that he shares as a partner with the CAF Red Tail Squadron, a non-profit organization dedicated to educating and inspiring people of all ages through the lessons of the Tuskegee Airmen.
As a board member, Brown has helped guide the Squadron in their educational outreach, a three-fold program that brings the history and legacy of the Tuskegee Airmen to life in communities and classrooms. Along with a fully-restored and operational P-51C Mustang from World War II, the group has a mobile movie theater, the RISE ABOVE Traveling Exhibit, that together tour the country to share the inspirational message of the Tuskegee Airmen with young and old alike. The Squadron also offers educational materials and activities for teachers and youth leaders, available free through their website.
The CAF Red Tail Squadron is bringing Brown to Red Wing, their home base, to share his experience with the community in a special FREE event Tuesday, September 12 at 6:00 p.m. at the Sheldon Theater. All ages are welcome, and will be treated to a short video, a presentation by Brown, a question and answer segment, and opportunity for autographs. His wife and co-author, Dr. Marsha Bordner, will also be a featured guest.
The authors, who both served for decades in higher education, understand the importance of helping others to understand and find ways to identify with this important piece of history. Not only does it serve to inspire the next generation to personal greatness, but remembering the past helps us all to reflect on how far we’ve come and where we want to go. The legacy of the Tuskegee Airmen should never be forgotten, their struggles never repeated.
Brown currently resides in Port Clinton, Ohio, but he’s a Minneapolis native and is looking forward to visiting the home of the CAF Red Tail Squadron in Red Wing. He is also scheduled to speak with local students and at a correctional facility in the area to encourage all to “rise above” their challenges and find success.
To learn more about the Tuskegee Airmen and for free educational materials for teachers and youth leaders, visit redtail.org.
The CAF Red Tail Squadron is a volunteer-driven organization dedicated to educating audiences across the country about the history and legacy of the Tuskegee Airmen, America’s first black military pilots and their support personnel. Learn more at www.redtail.org.