Of the almost 16 million Americans that served in the military during World War II, just around 620,000 remain according to the US Department of Veterans Affairs. As this generation of brave men and women pass on, along with them go their memories and tales of triumph from debatably the greatest conflict in world history. It is important to collect and share the sights and sounds of these veterans to honor the great sacrifices they made for our country. The South County Community Center is fortunate to have decorated WWII hero James E. Brown as one of its beloved members.
Just over 73 years ago, James Brown left behind his hometown of Savannah, Tenn. after being drafted into the military at just 21 years of age. Shortly after, Brown completed Air Force training in New Jersey and was assigned as an aerial gunner with the 5th Air Force unit overseas in New Guinea. The majority of Brown’s 3-year tour consisted of him manning the top turret position on A-20 Attack Bombers. He explained that throughout training they learned just about everything they needed to know about airplanes, and the pilots learned even more. However, nothing could prepare Brown and his 28-year-old pilot for what would happen on May 20, 1945, the last mission Brown would ever fly out on.
While flying just above the treetops in Northern Luzon, Brown’s plane suddenly became the main target of enemy fire. The plane was riddled with over 400 bullets, severing the right engine’s fuel line and killing its hydraulics system. Throughout the panic of looking for an emergency landing location, Brown noticed he had been hit twice, once in the buttocks and once in the leg. “You’ve heard of people getting their butt shot off?” Brown asked. “I’m one of them,” he said laughingly. The pilot, unaware of Brown’s injury, managed to land the plane safely in a field in Manila. As soon as they touched ground the pilot turned around to see Brown’s legs covered in blood and asked him why he didn’t alert him of his injury. “Well you had enough to do I didn’t want to bother you with this conversation,” Brown recalls saying. “I didn’t want to tell you, you were busy flying that airplane and I wanted you to get us home.”
Brown spent about a month recovering from the injuries suffered during the attack in a hospital tent area in the Philippines. It was around that time that the war ended and as a result of his injuries, Brown was discharged from the Air Force and returned to the states.
Brown also discussed the memory of losing some of his closest friends while the four of them lived together in a tent in New Guinea. His three friends came from all over the country, including, Virginia, Kansas and Tennessee. They were each killed while on a mission leaving Brown to live in the tent alone. “It was a very sad time for me, losing my 3 buddies there, and I survived it, thank goodness,” he said. “It’s not hard to talk about it anymore, it was at the beginning but as time moved on it became easier.”
Upon returning to the states Brown reunited with his high school sweetheart Betty Weatherford whom he went on to marry in 1948. They had two children together and he is also now an extremely proud grandfather and great-grandfather.
In 1954 Brown graduated from Mississippi State University with a degree in Agricultural Science. He continued on to pursue a career in the finance world, working for Woodmen Life insurance company for 37 years. He also completed financial courses with Woodmen Life in order to obtain the FICF (Fraternal Insurance Counselor Fellow) designation before finding his home to retire at in The Woodlands.
Brown is a regular visitor to the community center and believes it has helped him through retirement. “If you develop retirement with a positive attitude, it is a wonderful time in your lifespan and I’ve enjoyed it,” he said. “I have an association with a good group of people here and it’s very important for people my age to have this association and I’m very appreciative of the organization here and the activities and the nice food they provide us.”
Although his time served in the military and battling during WWII does not define Brown, it did help mold him into the person he is today. The sacrifices he made and everything he has seen are an important part of American history that will live on forever. We are lucky to still have these Veterans such as James Brown and want to thank them all for their service.
Medals and Awards:
- Purple Heart: Awarded to any member of the Armed Forces of the United States who has been wounded, killed, or who has died or may die of wounds received from an opposing enemy force while in armed combat.
- Air Medal: The Air Medal is a military decoration of the United States military. The medal was created in 1942 and is awarded for meritorious achievement while participating in aerial flight.
- Philippines liberation medal: Service in the liberation of the Philippine Islands between 17 October 1944 and 3 September 1945.
- Asiatic Pacific Medal: Service in the Asiatic-Pacific theater for 30 days or receipt of any combat decoration.
- Six additional medals.