Lieutenant Colonel (Ret.) Robert Brown was a military family member during World War II. Brown was born and raised in Sumter, S.C. He then reported for navigator training, but ended up retraining as an electronic warfare officer when the demand for the career field increased.
His first assignment was in Georgia, where he worked with B-52 Stratofortress aircraft and was on nuclear alert when the Cuban Missile Crisis occurred during the Cold War. From this assignment, he was reassigned to Eielson Air Force Base, AK, where he worked with RC-135 Rivet Joint reconnaissance aircraft. His job consisted of flying to the Kamchatka Peninsula when the Russians would test their intercontinental ballistic missiles. The mission was to photograph and record Russian activity.
One of his most memorable missions during the Cold War was when he moved back to Eielson, Alaska. One evening, his team discovered that a Russian bomber was nearby. The pilot got permission from home station to follow the Russians and Brown’s team trailed them to record their actions. Their cover was blown when Soviet ground control cleared the sixth aircraft – the aircraft Brown was in – to land, and the Russian aircraft commander said that they only had five planes. They decided to break away and flew back to Eielson with vital information that garnered Brown and his team the Distinguished Flying Cross.
The Air Force later sent him to Chapel Hill in N.C. to get his master’s degree. At the same time, the war in Vietnam broke out, and Brown was sent to Southeast Asia to fly with the AC-130 Spectre gunships after he finished graduate school.
Once his tour in Southeast Asia ended, he went to the U.S. Air Force Academy, where he taught English and was the head of the technical writing department. It was a chance for him to indulge in his love for literature and spend more time with his family.
Brown retired after 28 years in service and became an adjunct professor at University of South Carolina’s English department. He also helped start a program at Thomas Sumter Academy that brought college courses into the high school curriculum.