Despite earning a Ph.D. and accumulating many accomplishments in the field of education, Harold Brown is defined by three years in the 1940s.
He is okay with that.
Dr. Harold Brown was a member of what is arguably our country's most recognizable fighting and flying unit--the Red Tails of the Tuskegee Airmen. From 1942 until he was shot down over Germany and taken prisoner a few months before the end of the war in 1945, Brown was a fighter pilot, escorting B-24 bombers flying out of Italy in raids over Germany.
"Those are the three years that everyone wants to talk about," Brown says. "That's okay. I'm proud to have served my country and proud to have been a Red Tail. We were quite a group!"
After his flying days and a 23-year stint in the U.S. Air Force concluded in 1965, Brown entered the educational field, serving as instructor and chairman of the electronics department for Columbus Area Technician School (CATS), which had about 150 students at the time, and had been founded only two years earlier. The tiny technical school became Columbus Technical Institute (CTI) the next year, and was rechartered to Columbus State Community College nearly 20 years later.
"I'm so impressed with the growth of the community college system in general--Columbus State in particular. It really serves a need in the Central Ohio area."
He was vice president of academic affairs when he retired from Columbus State in 1986.
Brown was born in Minneapolis on August 19, 1924. His mother wanted him to be a piano player. When he was 11 years old, he found a book on about fighter pilots at Randolph Field in Texas.
"I read that book over and over," he says. "From that moment on, I wanted to be a military pilot."
After graduating from high school in June of 1942, Brown had to wait until August, when he turned 18, to enlist. However, he failed the physical exam. To get into the U.S. Army Air Corp, you had to weigh a minimum of 128 1/2 pounds. He checked in at 128 pounds.
"A half-pound! I couldn't believe it, but they wouldn't make an exception," says Brown. "The guy asked me if I had access to malted milks. I was working as a soda jerk at the time, so I did. He told me starting on Wednesday to have a malted milk with an egg in the morning, and one at night. He had me come back in on Saturday and retake the physical and I passed at 128 3/4 pounds."
After basic training at Biloxi, Miss., Brown went to flight school at Tuskegee Institute. He was ultimately sent to Europe with the 99th Fighter Squadron. On his 12th mission, he had to crash land his P-51 Mustang and hitchhike six days to get back to his unit.
On his 30th mission, a raid on German railroads, Brown's plane was badly damaged and he had to bail out, parachuting into the German countryside. A short time later, two German constables showed up and he was escorted into a nearby town.
After being interrogated by the Germans in Nuremberg, his interrogator, who Brown says spoke better English that he did, said, "This war's going to be over in a couple of months. Go to the prison camp and don't do anything silly."
Sure enough, two months later, General George Patton rode his spit-shined Jeep into the camp. Brown was flown to France and put on a ship for the United States as the war ended.
He stayed in the Air Force, rising to the rank of lieutenant colonel. His service time included a stint as a test pilot during the Korean War.
His last assignment was at the former Lockbourne Air Force Base in Columbus. It was during that period that he obtained his bachelor's degree in mathematics from Ohio University, followed by a master's and a doctorate.
After serving as an instructor at Columbus Tech, he was appointed vice president of academic affairs in 1974 by then-President Harold Nestor. They liked to refer to themselves as "Harold Majority and Harold Minority." In two years, they worked to increase enrollment at CTI from 1,999 to 4,000.
"I don't think there's a better educational opportunity in the world than the community college system," Brown says. "It's inexpensive and it's the path to a four-year degree. I'm so impressed with the growth of the community college system in general--Columbus State in particular. It really serves a need in the Central Ohio area."
Brown reflects positively on his days at Columbus State, and is fond of recalling a conversation he had with President Clarence H. Schauer in the early 70s.
"He was a quiet guy, but one day we were in my office talking and he asked me about my military service. I told him I was a Tuskegee Airman, a Red Tail. His mouth dropped open. Turns out, he had served on a B-24 flying out of Italy. He was probably on one of the bombers I was escorting. I told him after that, 'you can never fire me because I saved your butt somewhere over Germany!'"
Following his retirement, Brown founded Brown & Associates, an educational consulting firm that he ran for 26 years until retiring at age 88.