Vietnam War Hero Not Forgotten

  • Published
  • By CPT Kevin Heineman
  • 185th ARW

Forty years ago to the day, First Lieutenant Warren Brown made the ultimate sacrifice over the skies of Southeast Asia. Appropriately, members of his unit, his family, and the local community gathered a year later to pay their respects by dedicating a memorial to Lieutenant Brown. But with time, the memorial was all but forgotten. Located in front of the Sioux Gateway Airport terminal, the old memorial's condition had deteriorated since being moved to the airport in the early 80's.

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Troy Brown (Major Ret.), one of Lieutenant Brown's sons, is amazed at the generosity of Sioux City residence, the local media, and current and retired members of the 185th Air Refueling Wing who supported the refurbishing and rededication of his father's memorial. Troy began his own Air National Guard career with the 185th as a Weapons Loader on the then A-7's, before being accepted to flight school. He then moved to Knoxville, TN and flew C-130's and KC-135's with the Tennessee National Guard before retiring as a major in 2001.

Lieutenant Brown was the only member of the 185th TFG, now the 185th Air Refueling Wing, to be killed in action during the Vietnam War. Troy was only 7 years old when his father died on July 14, 1968, after his plane was shot down while flying a combat mission in Ashau Valley.

On the front of the new memorial is the original dedication plaque from the ceremony in 1969 recognizing Warren Brown as the only member of the 185th TFG to be killed in action. On another side of the memorial is the poem "High Flight," written by poet John Gillespie Magee Jr., a WWII pilot whose words describing flight are still an inspiration to many amongst the pilot ranks yet today. "That poem, which most pilots are aware of, hung in my mother's household for many years after my father's death," said Troy. "It provided a source of comfort for my mother and the rest of our family."

Troy recognized how difficult it was for his mother to accept his decision to become part of the Guard in 1981. "My mother Patty sacrificed a great deal but she always understood and backed our decisions to be a part of the military," said Troy. "My father was killed in action during Vietnam, and his brother Eldon was killed as a test pilot for the Marines while testing a plane over the Nebraska. So, though it was difficult for her, she still supported my decision to enter the Air Guard and become a pilot. I know she was especially worried during Desert Storm when I was activated to fly missions."

Troy understood the importance of his strong family military background when he entered the Guard and used his father's sacrifice as an inspiration to carry on the family legacy. He joined the service not as a career, but out of a sense of patriotism, something he believes pushes many young people to still join the military today. And his patriotism was shown when he actually had to retire twice from the Air National Guard.

"I actually retired on September 10th, 2001, but called my unit in Tennessee the next day to have them tear up my retirement papers after witnessing on television the events that transpired on September 11th, 2001," said Brown. "I did it because I have always had very strong feelings of patriotism and did not want to sit on the sidelines."

Troy is also honored that his father's memorial stands near the recently dedicated memorial to Colonel Bud Day, whose name the Sioux City airfield is named after. "There are a lot of similarities between the sacrifices made by Colonel Bud Day and my father," said Troy. "There are two stories at different parts of the spectrum of the sacrifices made by these two fine men, one who volunteered himself back into the military and become a POW for six years, and another who made the ultimate sacrifice during the Vietnam War."

Troy and his brother Todd Brown unveiled the newly refurbished memorial in front of hundreds of military and civilian guests. Retired Captain John Hailey brought the day to it's emotional peak as he vividly recounted the day he watched his friend Warren Brown fall from the sky exactly 40 years ago, to the day. Troy said, "I hope people will take a moment to stop and view the memorials and take time to reflect on the great sacrifices made by our forefathers for this country."