WARREN - Robert E. Brown knew his time was coming. While he skipped from job to job after graduating from Canfield High School, he knew what was inevitable for able young men in 1943.
World War II was in full swing and the 19-year-old Brown stood stateside, waiting for his number to be called.
"I knew the draft was going to get me soon," he said from his residence in Warren. "They were going to grab me sooner or later, so I finally got sick of waiting."
Tribune Chronicle / Ashley Newman
Robert E. Brown displays photos from his days in the U.S. Army Air Forces. A questionable physical kept the Warren resident from going overseas during World War II. Tribune Chronicle / Ashley Newman
He headed to the local draft board.
"They told me, 'Yeah, you'll be going next month,' so I started getting ready to go," Brown said. "I guess technically I was drafted, but I also sort of volunteered, too. I went in willingly."
So began an unlikely journey for a World War II draftee at the height of the war. Brown entered the U.S. Army Air Forces in March 1943 and in two years of devoted service to his country, the Youngstown native never left the continental United States.
Editor's note: This is part of a weekly series published each Monday between Memorial Day and Veterans Day honoring local veterans.
Robert Edger Brown
Family: wife, Ruth (deceased)
Service: U.S. Army Air Forces, 1943-1945; sergeant
Honors: Good Conduct Medal
Employment: Packard Electric (retired)
But he came close.
Following his basic training in Kearns, Utah, and a few pit stops along the way, Brown headed to Lincoln, Neb., for what he thought was mechanics school.
"I was told we would be working on pursuit planes," the 88-year-old Brown remembered. "That included the P-38, but all the rest were single-engine planes. It was sort of a basic school. I learned electrical things and some of the mechanical stuff."
While doing his best to learn the ins and outs of the pursuit planes, one of Brown's friends asked him for a favor.
"One of my buddies wanted to be a fighter pilot and he found out how to get things started for that," Brown said. "You had to apply and take some testing and all of that. He wanted someone to go with him and he couldn't find anyone. I really didn't want to do it, but he talked me into it."
To accompany his friend, Brown was also asked to apply for the pilot training. Brown caught the recruiter's eye.
"I ended up taking these tests with my buddy just as a favor to him," Brown said. "It turned out he was scratched because he was color blind. They wanted me, though."
The Youngstown native was suddenly thrust toward the path of a chosen few. He was sent to Santa Ana, Calif., to begin flight courses.
"They were essentially preparing me to go overseas and fly missions," Brown said. "It was very straight-laced and very stringent."
All that stood between Brown and continuing on as a fighter pilot was a one more simple physical.
"I'm still not completely sure what happened with that doctor," Brown recalled. "There were these constant physicals because they wanted only the best and brightest to go forward with it. Anyway, I took the physical and the flight surgeon told me, 'You're out.'
"I never did learn what my problem was, but they scratched me out and that was that. Later during my next stop, a different doctor gave me a physical and told me there was no way I should have been scratched and there was nothing wrong with me.''
With his opportunity to become a fighter pilot lost, Brown began the program which would occupy the remainder of his time in the military.
"I was locked into the Southwest Technical Training Command, which meant training pilots, navigators and co-pilots in the skilled trades of airplanes, as well as doing mechanical work on the planes," Brown said.
"Once I got involved in that program, I was pretty certain I would never go overseas because as long as the war was going on, they would be training people and they would need me to service the planes."
Brown spent his last year in the U.S. Air Force bouncing between Hobbs, N.M., Amarillo, Texas, and Roswell, N.M., as a mechanic for pursuit planes. His specialty was B-17 and B-29 bombers.
"They were sending all of the pursuit planes there to be pickled and preserved. We took all the hardware out of them. I remember taking all of the submachine guns out of the wings," Brown said. "We put protect plugs in the spark plug holes to soak up the moisture so they didn't rust. We did that for days and days."
In late 1945, Brown was honorably discharged from the Air Forces.
"In a way, I feel like I was lucky because I never had to go overseas," he said. "I don't remember much about the train ride home, but I went to Fort Meade in Maryland for discharge. I was a corporal then and the sergeant who gave me my final interview offered me sergeant stripes to stay in longer. They needed people because everyone was wanting to go home, and he tried to entice me.''
Brown made the decision to come home to see his parents and sister after thinking about the offer.
"I hadn't seen them in a long time," Brown said. "I did think about it for a minute, but I decided against it. I was ready to go home. They did end up giving me sergeant stripes while I was signing my release papers anyway."
Brown has resided in Warren since 1949 and he married Girard native Ruth Lewis Brown in 1953, who passed away in 1998. He retired from Packard Electric as an engineer following 34 years of service.