The Bookworm Sez: ‘Keep Your Airspeed Up’ tells a big story

The Bookworm Sez: ‘Keep Your Airspeed Up’ tells a big story

In things of great importance, you stand on the shoulders of giants.

Those who came before you gave you a boost to get you where you are. They cleared your path and knocked aside obstacles. You stand on the shoulders of those giants even if, as in the new book “Keep Your Airspeed Up” by Harold H. Brown with Marsha S. Bordner (c.2017, University of Alabama Press, $29.95, 270 pages), the giant was once kinda scrawny.

Growing up in Minneapolis in the pre-World War II years, Harold H. Brown says that he and his brother “Bubba” were “mongrel dogs”: their maternal line was white-Jewish-Black; their paternal ancestors were African American and possibly Native American. Both boys were light-complexioned with straight hair, which Brown believes may have helped him later in his career.

Throughout his childhood and attendance at an integrated high school, he was fascinated with flying and so, when his brother enlisted in the military at the beginning of the War, Brown saw a way to achieve his own dream. Fully aware that a black man in a mostly-white military wouldn’t have it easy, but believing that racial discrimination for black pilots would “resolve itself,” he decided to join the Air Corps in mid-1942. At the exam, he was “the only black man taking the mental test … on that summer day,” and he was a quarter pound below weight on the physical test. “I flunked it!” he says, but by early 1943, he’d gained the needed ounces and had headed south to officially enlist in the Tuskegee Army Flying School.

The South presented a big learning curve for a Northern black man. Brown experienced serious racial problems for the first time and though he “hated segregation,” he realized that being in a segregated Air Corps unit was perhaps better for a black soldier; training was easier when there were more than just two or three black faces in a unit. And so he trained hard: many hours of flight-time, classes, and more.

“We knew that we were among a very select group of people,” he says.

“I never thought I would ever get shot down.”

“Keep Your Airspeed Up” is a surprise. A very nice one.

Not only is it a warm and genuine biography, beginning even before author Harold H. Brown was born, but this book takes readers through a two-pronged fight, both in war and for civil rights, as told through quiet tales of heroes and those who created them. Brown (with Marsha Bordner) is careful to give credit to the many who made him who he is; after those gentle shout-outs and heart-in-your-throat war stories, you’ll then be brought up-to-date with his current life. Remarkably, through this all, Brown’s story is told humbly, which will endear him to readers even more.

Even if you don’t consider yourself a World War II buff, this book is more than just that. There’s other history here, as well as a biography that will charm you plenty. If that seems like a winner for you, then “Keep Your Airspeed Up” is a pretty big book.

The Bookworm is Terri Schlichenmeyer. Email her at bookwormsez@yahoo.com.

More in News

Courtesy photo / Juneau Raptor Center
This golden eagle was rescued by the Juneau Raptor Center over the summer after being found weak and thin.
Rescue center, birdwatchers look back on 2021

Juneau Christmas bird count was way down this year.

This satellite image taken by Himawari-8, a Japanese weather satellite operated by Japan Meteorological Agency and released by National Institute of Information and Communications Technology (NICT), shows an undersea volcano eruption at the Pacific nation of Tonga Saturday, Jan. 15, 2022. (NICT via AP)
Tsunami advisory issued after eruption

An undersea volcano erupted Friday near the South Pacific island of Tonga, triggering concerns of damaging waves across Pacific coastlines

Flowers bloom at Soldotna City Hall on Wednesday, June 24, 2021 in Soldotna, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
Multiple public works projects underway in Soldotna

Soldotna City Council received an update on eight different projects

COVID-19. (Image courtesy CDC)
Hospitalizations rise as state reports increase in COVID cases

There were a total of 112 COVID-related hospitalizations in Alaska as of Friday

Terri Carter’s class celebrates the National Blue Ribbon award after their assembly at Soldotna Montessori Charter School on Friday, Jan 14, 2022. (Camille Botello / Peninsula Clarion)
A ‘pathway to a brighter and fulfilling future’

Soldotna Montessori Charter School celebrates national achievement

Homer City Council member Rachel Lord discusses her concerns with funding the Alaska Small Business Development Center Homer Business Advisory position during the Jan. 10 council meeting. (Photo by Sarah Knapp/Homer News)
Council says ‘yes to small businesses’

Homer City Council votes 4-2 in favor of partially funding the Homer Business Advisory position.

AP Photo / Becky Bohrer
Sightseeing buses and tourists are seen at a pullout popular for taking in views of North America’s tallest peak, Denali, in Denali National Park and Preserve, Alaska, on Aug. 26, 2016.
Bridge proposed along section of slumping Denali park road

Landslides in the area go back decades but usually required maintenance every two to three years

A sign directs voters at Soldotna City Hall on March 5, 2019. (Peninsula Clarion file)
Locals to join national voting rights march Saturday

The march in Soldotna is part of the Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Action

Soldotna City Hall is seen on Wednesday, June 23, 2021 in Soldotna, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
Soldotna approves $32,000 federal grant for airport

The funds were made available through the American Rescue Plan Act for improvement projects at the Soldotna Municipal Airport

Most Read