With Memorial Day approaching, it's important for Americans to appreciate the immeasurable freedoms we enjoy living in the United States.
Waite High School is doing its part May 24, hosting the 97th Annual Memorial Day Program, “Courage Knows No Color.” The event will feature Dr. Harold Brown, a former member of the Tuskegee Airmen, a squadron in the United States Army that served the country during World War II.
When people generally think of the Civil Rights Movement, it’s likely they’ll recall the work of men like Martin Luther King, Jr., Malcolm X and Jackie Robinson.
But before any of them made their mark on history, there were the Tuskegee Airmen.
Brown, a retired Lieutenant Colonel, was a member of the Tuskegee Airmen, a group of African-American pilots who battled discrimination in the military and formed the 332nd Fighter Group and the 477th Bombardment Group of the U.S. Army Air Corps in 1941 in an effort to earn respect and give themselves an opportunity to serve in WWII.
The squadron, which was based in Tuskegee, Ala., trained 992 pilots, 450 of which were deployed overseas in the war. Because of their collective efforts, three Distinguished Unit Citations, 744 Air Medals, 14 Bronze Stars and eight Purple Hearts were awarded to members of the group.
In reality, these men were fighting two wars: one against Nazi Germany; the other, against the discrimination they faced in their homeland.
It is because of their service to this nation in the world’s last “Great War” and for the hardships they endured fighting racial segregation that they are remembered as heroes.
Their efforts helped lead to the desegregation of the U.S. Army, which occurred in 1948 when President Harry Truman signed Executive Order 9981, an event which opened up doors for the airmen and help to bring about the Civil Rights Movement.
And Hollywood has also taken it in making sure that these men are honored.
In January, “Red Tails,” a movie starring Cuba Gooding, Jr. and Terrence Howard that detailed the works of the Tuskegee Airmen, was released. In fact, Brown was honored in Toledo at Rave Cinemas at Westfield Franklin Park during the showing of the movie.
“What we did was to pretty much change the course of history in terms of civil rights and everything that came after it,” Brown said. “There was an awful lot of history in terms of breaking down barriers.”
The airmen were known as “Red Tails” or “Red-Tail Angels” because they painted the tails of their P-47 and P-51 planes red.
Most recently, Brown was among approximately 300 Tuskegee Airmen who were given the prestigious honor of being collectively awarded the Congressional Gold Medal by President George W. Bush on March 27, 2007.
In an effort to spread the word about himself and his fellow airmen, Brown occasionally gives speeches, having most recently spoken at the Toledo Rotary Club and Terra Community College.
He has previously spoken of being captured behind enemy lines and how he was held as a prisoner of war in Nazi Germany.
He’s spoken of being sent to Nuremberg, and of Germans who befriended him.
And he’s spoken about General George Patton leading the military through Europe and liberating Brown and his fellow prisoners. He is an engaging, self-deprecating, congenial, and most of all, informative speaker. It can be considered it an entertaining way of receiving a history lesson.
The ceremony is 1 p.m. May 24 at the Waite Field House, which is located at 301 Morrison Drive in East Toledo. For more information, call 419-671-7000.