En español | As told to William W. Horne, Christina Ianzito, Mike Tharp, Garrett M. Graff, Julia Lobaco and Garrett Schaffel.
World War II, 1945
Lieutenant George Iles
by Lieutenant Harold Brown
Harold Brown and his buddy George Iles were two of the nearly 1,000 African American pilots known as Tuskegee Airmen in the segregated military of the 1940s. Both men flew in the 99th Fighter Squadron of the U.S. Army Air Corps in Europe.
I was on a strafing mission in Germany in March when a locomotive I was shooting at exploded beneath me and I had to bail out. Soon after, I got picked up by the Germans — which was a good thing, since the civilians were ready to kill me — and taken to a POW camp near Nuremberg. Whenever they brought new guys in, all of the old inmates would hang on the fence looking for someone from their squadron. Well, that was quite a thing when I saw my buddy George hanging there — almost indescribable. I was alone, frightened to death, and there I see his familiar face. The chances were about one in umpteen million. We’d flown together. Trained together. Went overseas together. Now we were POWs together.
And we ended up being the only black guys in our compound. I joke that the first time I was integrated in the military was when I was a POW.
After just 10 days, the Germans marched us and 10,000 other POWs to another camp north of Munich because the Americans were getting close. It took us almost two weeks to get there, walking in groups of 200, sleeping under the stars. We were always hungry. The Germans didn’t even have enough food for themselves. Once a day they’d bring in a big pot supposed to be soup, which was really nothing more than water. George and I did what we could: Once we cooked up dandelion greens. And instead of opening up two tins of Spam, we would open up one tin and share it to make our food last that much longer.
We were in the new prison for about two weeks when we started hearing the tanks rumbling. We knew it wouldn’t be long. Then on April 29, 1945, General George S. Patton came through with his tanks, knocked down the fences and liberated us. Iles and I and everybody else were hollering and screaming, so happy, happy! The war was over for us!
Back home we were stationed together for a while, then eventually led our separate lives. But I’ve always considered him a big brother. We couldn’t have been closer.