|Maj. George M. Boyd
|Lt. Col. Harold Brown
|Col. James Harvey
By Frederick A. Johnsen
They were America's first black airmen. And there are fewer every year.
Several Tuskegee Airmen shared stories with AirVenture visitors Thursday at the EAA Welcome Center. The men were illuminating and patriotic as they related tales of combat, racism, and success.
These Tuskegee airmen and others were warmly received by the AirVenture crowd who showed appreciation for their service.
Retired Lt. Col. Harold Brown, self-described as "a little 20-year-old punk not old enough to vote" when he returned from the war, talked about his combat in the P-51 Mustang fighter.
On his 30th mission, a strafing attack over enemy-held Austria, Brown had to abruptly pull up to an altitude of 1,000 feet and bail out of his beloved Mustang when ground fire targeted him.
Once on the ground, he was quickly confronted by angry residents of the place he had strafed. "I thought I was going to die that day," Brown said. The mob moved him toward a large tree-a hanging tree, he surmised.
Before harm could befall the black aviator, a local constable stepped in front of the crowd and chambered a round in a rifle, holding his fellow townspeople at bay.
Brown and the constable made an armed retreat to a secure pub until the American could be handed over to German authorities. "He saved my life," Brown said of his anonymous guard.
Brown dispelled a story often told in recent years claiming the Tuskegee Airmen, flying in the 332nd Fighter Group, never lost a bomber under escort. "We did lose bombers."
But that is no discredit to the 332nd or any other escort unit; fighter escort never ensures complete protection for all bombers.
Among Brown's compatriots at AirVenture was retired Col. James Harvey, who recalled a bittersweet event in the 1949 postwar Air Force when integration was the rule, if not always the practice of airmen of the day.
He, along with several other 332nd pilots, flew in the first USAF gunnery meet after the war in 1949. The 332nd flew P-47 Thunderbolts against other units in P-51 Mustangs and even F-82 Twin Mustangs. Day after day, event after event, the black fliers of the 332nd were in first place, ultimately winning the conventional (propeller-driven) category at the meet.
The awards banquet was at a then-segregated hotel in Las Vegas, Col. Harvey recalled.
The men of the 332nd were invited to accept the trophy, have their photo taken, and then leave the hotel.
But after their departure, documentation of the 332nd's victory, along with the trophy, went missing for many years, he told the AirVenture crowd.
It took decades, but the trophy and the documentation were tracked down and now reside at the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force in Dayton, Ohio, Harvey said.
Retired Air Force Maj. (and Civil Air Patrol Col.) George M. Boyd warmed up the crowd with the reason he likes wearing the uniform with "U.S." collar tabs on it: "I like being 'U.S.' because it stands for United States citizen."
Colonel Boyd was enthusiastic about what flight training accomplished: "You learn how to fly an airplane, and it will change your life.
"You learn how to think clearly."
His postwar Air Force career included a stint as a radar intercept officer in jet fighters, followed by civilian service as the Kansas director of aviation.
"I couldn't have done any of the things I've done in any other country but this one," Boyd said to enthusiastic applause.