Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Veteran's Day history: WWII aviator's story a hero's tale (with video)

“He’s not at the top of the ladder, but he’s climbing.” — Quote at the bottom of Guy Brown Jr.’s yearbook photo.


While bombing a Japanese port on July 28, 1945, Vicksburg's Guy Brown and his TBM Avenger crew were lost to history. But aviation enthusiasts and a historic World War II aircraft brought Brown's story back to life.



Names are carved on a cold stone. Each name has a story behind it. But when the people who know those stories die, the stories are lost. History fades. Time marches on. And the names become only a barren list like from a phone book.

On the World War II Memorial in Vicksburg there is a name of a forgotten hero — Guy McElroy Brown Jr.

Brown died a week-and-a-half before the U.S. dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima. His parents, who were broken-hearted, died five years later, 10 days apart. With their passing, Brown’s story faded away. He became another name on a list.

That is until Clinton Body Shop owner John Mosley bought a World War II U.S. Navy bomber called a TBM Avenger. When Mosley decided to paint the plane like one flown by a Mississippi pilot, his discovered Guy Brown’s name. And thanks to exhaustive online research done by Anne Claire Fordice, Brown's incredible but short life revealed itself like invisible ink rubbed with an onion.

Brown, born on June 15, 1917, was the only child of Guy M. Brown Sr. and Clara Boyd Brown. He grew up in a modest home on Claremont Street in Vicksburg.

Gifted athletically and academically — and possessing Hollywood good looks — he was elected president of his junior class at Carr Central High School. 

When Pearl Harbor was attacked on Dec. 7, 1941, Guy did what every red-blooded American did — he enlisted in the military. Soon he was training in Pensacola, Florida, to become a naval aviator. He’d be the pilot and crew chief for the Navy’s latest bomber, the TBM Avenger, named for what would be its primary mission — to avenge the deaths at Pearl Harbor.

All the while, his mother kept a diary of his service on a tongue-and-groove wall in their basement. He repeatedly flew his plane and its crew into the hellfire of Japanese antiaircraft fire. Two Distinguished Flying Crosses proved he had the right stuff. His parents were rightfully proud.

While serving on the aircraft carrier USS Shangri La, Brown proved himself to not only be an expert pilot but also a light-hearted prankster. According to his wingman and friend, Dean Boyers, when in port Brown would be the first to pick up the dates and the last to board the ship. When he’d come aboard, he’d flip up his sleeping shipmates' bunks and then use his athleticism to escape, laughing all the way.

On July 28, 1945, Brown made his final flight. His torpedo group was tasked with removing antiaircraft artillery in a Japanese harbor. He scored a direct hit on his target, but at an altitude between 5,000 and 8,000 feet, a Japanese antiaircraft shell hit its mark, too. Guy’s wingman saw Brown’s plane and her crew of three plummet into the sea in two pieces. Charles Edward Smith Jr. and William Harry Winn were also on board. There were no survivors.

Mosley visited Brown’s old home and met the owners, who were out in the yard. When he told them Brown’s story, they said, “Well, that makes sense. We have a diary from the war on our wall.”  

Fellow aviation enthusiast Dan Fordice arranged to have that part of the wall cut out and replaced. The wall diary that his mother so lovingly and then tragically kept now sits in the Southern Heritage Aviation Foundation museum at the Vicksburg-Tallulah airport. It’s worthy of seeing.

Brown’s story lives on thanks to John Mosley’s decision to buy a classic warbird. It also lives on because of the hard work of the Fordices. As long as Mosley’s TBM Avenger takes flight, Brown won’t be just another name on a stone.

Story and video ➤ http://www.clarionledger.com

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