DORAL (CBSMiami) — He flew ground attack missions and long-range bomber escort missions deep into German territory and lived to tell the tale.
Dr. Harold Brown was one of just roughly 300 African-American pilots in the allied effort known as the Tuskegee Airmen, more commonly called the “Red Tails.”
“I survived,” the 93-year-old veteran said. “I probably should have been dead many, many years ago. That was the first time I looked death straight in the face and I knew I was gonna die.”
In World War II, Tuskegee Airmen served the allied effort with distinction in Northern Africa and Europe and are credited with helping pave the way for desegregation in the U.S. Armed Forces after the conflict ended.
With the advent of the flight-training program at the Tuskegee Institute in 1941, the Minneapolis, Minnesota native got his chance to fly and graduated from the program in 1944, earning a spot in the famed 332nd Fighter Group.
Dr. Brown spoke Thursday in Doral at the United States Southern Command by invitation, sharing his advice with a new generation of soldiers, his experiences in the deadliest war in modern American history and about his own unique place in history.
“If they can do it, you can do it, because we overcame an awful lot of obstacles before they allowed us to fly airplanes,” Dr. Brown said.
He wrote about it in his book, “Keep Your Speed Up,” where he describes flying in 30 combat missions, strafing targets on the ground and protecting bombers in the air.
His 30th mission would be his last, however, as he took fire over enemy territory and was forced to bail from his damaged P-51.
“I was shot down on my 30th mission,” he revealed. “That got just a little scary.”
Brown spent the next six weeks of the war as a prisoner. His time at the P.O.W. camp became the first time he was ever integrated with other soldiers.
Taking questions from the audience, one from a retiring Navy Captain seemed to sum up what it was like.
“What was your most difficult assignment during that time in the 1940’s,” he was asked.
Said Brown, “Everyday.”