MINNEAPOLIS -- Colonel Harold Brown, a Minneapolis native, was a prisoner of war during World War II.
The 93-year-old and Minneapolis native is back in the Twin Cities sharing his experience as a Tuskegee Airman.
During the 1930s and 1940s, the United States military wouldn't allow black people to fly for the country.
The military reluctantly allowed for the development of a flight-training program for a limited number of African Americans on a segregated base in Tuskegee, Alabama.
Brown, a North High School graduate, was among the pilots.
Brown was a combat pilot with the 332nd Fighter Group during World War II.
On his 30th mission, he was captured and imprisoned in Stalag VII A in Moosburg, Germany, where he was liberated by General George S. Patton on April 29, 1945.
"I came as close to dying as I ever came to in my life after I was shot down," Brown said. "I went in on him and had it light up like Christmas. It was looking just like a Christmas tree I was right on target."
He and his wife, Marsha S. Bordner wrote a book about his experiences - "Keep Your Airspeed Up: The Story of a Tuskegee Airman.
Col. Brown said his love affair with airplanes began at North High School. He was a member of a flying club at North High school called Keep Them Flying. Back then, his friends thought Brown would never get his wings because blacks were not allowed to fly.
"When I was a junior in high school I saved $35 and took five flying lessons," Brown said. "They won't even let you wash an airplane let alone fly an airplane they would say."
But Brown soared. As a member of the Tuskegee Airmen, he escorted bomber planes during World War II.
"I was single engine. I went overseas as a fighter pilot and I fought the war over in Europe," Brown said. "Because we always stuck with our bombers they called us the Red Tail angles. It got to the point where the bombers were requesting us."
But his take-off wasn't easy.
"In 1939, they started a big debate about whether or to even allow us (blacks) to fly," Brown said. "They painted that picture in the most derogatory terms as possible (calling us) illiterate, dumb, not intelligent enough to even fly an airplane."
So why did Brown want to serve and fight for a country that considered him a second class citizen?
"This is my country, too," Brown said. "They may have had a lot of segregated laws and what not, but I can be allowed to be called a second-class citizen but I don't consider myself a second-class citizen."
At 93, His view on race and democracy in America today is positive.
"There still is a lot of bigotry in this country but there isn't as much as it used to be. We got problems but compared to what it was then, there isn't any comparison," Brown said. "There will be time when a distinction between races will vanish. It won't happen in my life time as old as I am. I am in the fourth quarter asking for more time but you will in all probability live to see that happen."
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