By Michael J. Martin, EAA 1047599, Toronto, Ontario
On a glorious sunny winter’s day, an enormous crowd gathered in Port Clinton, Ohio, to pay their respects to the indelible memory of a famed Tuskegee Airman, Lt. Col. Harold H. Brown, Ph.D. Harold passed away at 98 years young in January 2023. To say that Harold was a force of nature is a ludicrous underestimation of his powerful and enduring soul. Harold was no mere mortal.
As a teenager, Harold wanted to fly. He saved his money for the $7 lessons. He could not afford to finish his training in the Piper J-3 Cub on his own, so he joined the military to complete his pilot training. At the ripe old age of 19, he graduated as a 2nd Lieutenant. In a racially charged culture, it was unthinkable that he could ever earn his wings. But he succeeded regardless, against all odds.
Flying the P-51 Mustang fighter aircraft during the later years of World War II, Harold flew many sorties over Germany and Austria from his base of operations with the 332nd Fighter Group in Ramitelli, Italy. Late in WWII, Harold was shot down and became a prisoner of war. General George S. Patton led the liberation of his prisoner camp.
He continued in his military service during the Korean War and later back in the States.
After his retirement from the military, having earned the rank of lieutenant colonel, Harold embarked on a second amazing career as an educator and earned his Ph.D. At first, he taught young fresh minds, and later took charge again as an indomitable administrator to help develop the community college program in Ohio.
After his retirement from the work world, Harold embraced the Red Tails organization as a third career and was a regular fixture at AirVenture over the years telling the stories of the Tuskegee Airmen. He was a dedicated EAA and CAF Red Tail ambassador and met tens of thousands of visitors at the travelling exhibit. He was an irrefutable rock star of the aviation world.
He visited Canada a few times. Once he appeared at the Canadian Warplane Heritage Museum in Hamilton and spent a long hot August weekend inspiring children, regaling histories, signing autographs, and making speeches in the main hangar. He never tired when he had an audience of any size around him so he could share his stories and encourage future pilots. Harold was gifted with kids and their giggles and wide-eye astonishment reflected back his passion for aviation.
One day, while in Hamilton, Harold had an audience of several hundred totally mesmerized and firmly in the palm of his hand for well over one hour. He was an awe-inspiring public speaker and the crowds hung on his every word. I was sitting in the back of the hangar with his equally talented wife, Dr. Marsha Stanfield Bordner. Marsha leaned close to me and whispered about Harold as he transfixed the crowd with a usually imaginative narrative of one of his Tuskegee tales. She said, “Behind every great man is a wife rolling her eyes.” So, even the greatest of men still are only human in the eyes of their spouses.
As a Canadian, I have been privileged to be one of many Canadians who volunteer at EAA AirVenture for the Red Tails. There are a surprising number of Canadian volunteers with this group. It is a wonderful team that works hard to support the Airmen and to continue the educational mission about these real-life heroes.
After the celebration of life ended for this magical man, they opened wide the giant hangar door at the Liberty Aviation Museum so we could all stroll outside into the radiant sunshine as four U.S. Air Force F-16s fighters flew the ‘missing man formation’ as a final tribute to Harold. It was a fitting end for a man so loved and respected. Harold lived life to its fullest — a lesson for us all.
If you would like to learn more about the extraordinary Harold H. Brown, he and Marsha published a book called Keep Your Airspeed Up. It is a powerful read that everyone with a passion for aviation needs to enjoy. See it at CAFRiseAbove.org