By Donna Vought
Contributing writer 

The Book Nook


November 30, 2017

Today I’m excited to share a book from an author with ties to our area. It’s “Keep Your Airspeed Up, the Story of a Tuskegee Airman” by Harold H. Brown and Marsha S. Bordner, published this year. Brown was a World War II combat pilot and in 2015 visited the area to give a talk that many enjoyed.

The book was co-authored by Brown’s wife Marsha Stanfield Bordner, whose first cousin David Stanfield lives in Town of Vermont with his wife Sandie. David and Sandie together with Jon Urness were instrumental in organizing Brown’s talk and recently the Stanfields donated a copy of his book to the Black Earth Library.

The book starts with his childhood in Minneapolis and includes stories about his family. As a boy Brown was captivated by airplanes, building models and saving money for a few flying lessons at 16. He was determined to become a military fighter pilot, but getting to that point was difficult for black men who aspired to become airmen in the military because of racial policies and segregation policies.

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Dr. Brown knew the military would be the best way to get aviation training although at the time they banned blacks from flying, citing lack of intelligence. Brown was confident that this obstacle would be gone by the time he enlisted.

Later he would become one of the Tuskegee Airmen –a distinguished group of African American aviators who broke through race barriers through their hard work and dedication. When his unit was sent to Europe, bomber crews were suffering very heavy losses. This was mostly due to the fact that fighter pilots charged with protecting the bombers were frequently drawn away by German flyers, thus leaving the bomber crews unprotected.

The Tuskegee Airmen were so successful at providing protection that they became known as the “Red Tail Angels”, a reference to the color of their fighter jet tails and their protective proficiency. Once word of their reputation spread, bomber crews would specifically request the Angels to increase their chance of survival. It’s likely the Angels’ played a major role in the desegregation of the U.S. military.

Near the end of the war Brown was forced to evacuate his plane and was captured, becoming a prisoner of war in Germany near the end of the war. After returning home he continued his military career, climbing the ladder while simultaneously obtaining his bachelor’s degree.

His post-military career saw him teaching at the Columbus Area Technician School. Again, he worked hard to advance his career and the school’s reputation. He gained his Masters and Doctorate degrees while working full-time and went on to become the Dean of Engineering and a Vice President at what is now Columbus State Community College.

I liked several things about this book. One was the matter-of-fact style the author used to present a great deal of information. He included letters from pilots or their relatives expressing thanks for his service. By including these and photos taken throughout his life, he makes the history more real.

It was admirable to read how Brown dealt with prejudice by determining how to overcome it. Instead of complaining or allowing others to degrade him, he showed appreciation of those who paved the way before him and kept focused on his goals. Many of us born in the Midwest can relate to his strong work ethic and I feel that along with the nurturing qualities of his family were key to his success.

In 2015 he was invited to speak at the Vermont Lutheran Church near Mt. Horbeb, WI. Although there was little advertising it was standing room only, with some people traveling from out of state to attend. I was fortunate to talk with two of the attendees.

One was Town of Vermont resident Jon Urness , who said he was amazed at Dr. Brown’s youthfulness and his vivid recollections of the past. He particularly liked hearing about the author’s descriptions of growing up in Minnesota and was pleased for Brown’s success in spite of the prejudice he endured.

Urness has been to Germany several times and has actually seen Stalag 13 and other areas mentioned in Brown’s book. He’s led groups to see what remains of the concentration camps, and noted that although very few are excited at the prospect initially, all later say they’re glad they went. He was also pleased that several WWII vets were able to hear the talk.

The Stanfields also attended and when asked what readers should know, Sandie said “Harold has had a distinguished career serving his country in the military and as a prominent civilian. His accomplishments transcend the bigotry and racism he encountered throughout his life. What David and I most admire and respect about him is his ability to forgive but not forget, and the greatness he has achieved in his lifetime. This is what comes through loud and clear in his memoir.”

Reading this book was a welcome balance against hate crimes reported in the news. One of my friends was recently approached by a stranger in Madison and told to “go back to China where she belongs”. Had the person taken the time to get their facts straight they would have learned that she’s a 3rd generation American of Thai descent. She and her family work hard, are warm and wonderful people and completely undeserving of such hatred.

Reading this book will uplift your spirits and hopefully remind you we still have work to do in creating a better world.

Please note there is only one copy available in the library system as of this writing, so place your holds now! It’s currently at the Black Earth library. But probably not for long, as this one will appeal to fans of history, WWII and success stories.

Donna is a librarian at the Black Earth Public Library and enjoys devouring nearly any type of fiction, especially science fiction/fantasy, humor. and historical fiction.  Her current list of all-time favorites includes Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series, anything by Neil Gaiman, Tracy Chevalier, Jodi Picoult, and Dave Barry, with apologies to the countless authors she feels should be included.


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