Harry W. Brown was one of the few fighter pilots to get airborne to oppose the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. He began his flying career less auspiciously, earning his first flying lesson by pulling cactus from a Texas airfield. After joining "B" Battery of the 131st Field Artillery of the Texas National Guard at the age of 13, Brown worked in a series of odd jobs to pay for his schooling. As war loomed on the horizon, he left Amarillo College determined to join the Army Air Corps. He passed the written examinations but failed the physical because of bad tonsils. Not to be deterred, he returned home, had them removed, and was back in 4 days for another physical. Having overcome this hurdle, Brown went through primary flying training at the Cal Aero Flying School in Ontario, California, and then basic training at San Angelo, Texas. This was followed by Advanced Flight School at Kelly Field, Texas. As a graduate of Class 41, he was awarded his pilot wings and gold bars in August 1941.
Just 20 years old, his first operational assignment was to the 47th Pursuit Squadron at Wheeler Field, Hawaii, where he qualified in the P-36 Hawk and P-40 Warhawk before the Japanese attack on Oahu on 7 December 1941. In August 1942, he was sent to the Southwest Pacific and flew P-40s and P-38 Lightnings with the 9th Fighter Squadron in New Guinea, where he soon gained his third aerial victory. Within 2 months of being assigned to the newly formed 475th Fighter Group, Brown scored three victories on 16 August 1943 to become that unit's first ace. The 475th, as the first all P-38 group in the Pacific Theater, scored an impressive 551 victories plus one from a notable civilian, Charles Lindberg, who was attached to the 475th in June 1944 as an advisor. Brown scored his seventh and final aerial victory over Rabaul, New Britain, in November 1943.
Returning to the US in December 1943, Brown served as a tactical inspector and aircraft maintenance officer at numerous stateside bases. Following the war, he was Commander of Fort Dix Army Air Base, New Jersey. In 1948 he left the Air Force to continue his formal education. While earning his undergraduate and graduate degrees in Industrial Relations from the University of Denver, he commanded the Reserve Air-Sea Rescue Squadron at Lowry AFB, Colorado. In 1956 he joined the Bechtel Corporation and later served as the Director of Personnel as that company grew from 2,600 to 60,000 employees.
Less than 20 hours after completing his final gunnery qualification on 6 December 1941, Second Lieutenant Harry Brown had the opportunity to put his newly-acquired training to work against a vast armada of Japanese aircraft. One of the few American fighter pilots to get airborne to oppose the dawn attack, Lieutenant Brown, still dressed in his tuxedo pants and pajama tops, drove his car through a hail of enemy fire to arm and launch an obsolete P-36. He quickly shot down two of the attacking Kate torpedo-bombers. For his heroic action, he was awarded the Silver Star and thus became the first Texan decorated for valor in World War II.