Marty Pirolli, center, of VFW Post 4906 salutes the memorial at Waite High School during Thursday's Memorial Day program, which was called 'Courage Knows No Color.'
Ret. Col. Harold Brown of the Tuskegee Airmen places a wreath near the memorial at Waite High School.
Before Ret. Col. Harold Brown helped blaze trails with the Tuskegee Airmen, before he flew fighter planes over Germany, before he was shot down twice and survived, he dreamt.
He knew at age 12 he wanted to fly, but for a boy like him, a black child, that was just a dream. So he waited, for times to change, for people to change, and for an opportunity.
"I knew at the time they wouldn't let a guy like me wash an airplane," he said, "let alone fly one."
He scraped together money and paid for flying lessons. And when war came, he went straight to a recruiter and said he wanted to fly. Mr. Brown would go on to fly dozens of sorties during World War II, before his wartime career ended when he was shot down and held in a German prisoner of war camp. The Port Clinton resident later had a successful career in education.
John Hatfield of American Legion Post 537 stands at attention after presenting the colors.
Waite High School held its 97th annual Memorial Day program Thursday, a school tradition to honor graduates and community members who have served in the military. This year's service was entitled "Courage Knows No Color," and highlighted not just the service of Waite alumni, but also the history of the famed Tuskegee Airmen, the first black U.S. military pilots and crew to fly combat missions.
Students who helped to organize the event said they were inspired by this year's film Red Tails, a dramatization of Tuskegee Airmen during World War II. For the ceremony, they brought in a real former member of the 332nd Fighter Group, Mr. Brown.
Waite's annual Memorial Day program and its frequent tributes toward veterans are a source of pride for the school.
"No other high school in northwest Ohio has a Memorial Day program quite like ours," Waite Principal David Yenrick said.
Amanda Blossom plays 'Taps' after a 21-gun salute from the Marine Corps during the Waite High School Memorial Day program.
Mr. Brown regaled the crowd with a short recap of his time in the 332nd. He made sure all knew that he was never shot down by an enemy fighter jet; ground fire got him both times. He told them how when he crashed the second time, residents wanted to hang him, but a town constable held them off at gunpoint until Mr. Brown could be transferred safely to German military custody. He spent the rest of the war, he said, at a POW camp in Nuremberg.
Those years, from age 17 to 20, defined him, he said. U.S. Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D., Toledo), who spoke at the ceremony, challenged Waite students at that age to match the contributions of those of Mr. Brown's generation.
"What contributions will you make to your country and world?" she asked.
Contact Nolan Rosenkrans at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6086.