Wayne Brown joined thousands of others on Mississippi River’s Mud Island (Memphis, Tennessee) in May 1987 when the famous World War II bomber, the Memphis Belle, was opened to the public for a coming home exhibition at the Memphis Belle Pavilion. After securing autographs from famed pilot Robert Morgan and Belle icon Margaret Polk, Brown climbed into the plane. It was the first time he’d been in a B-17 since the last of 11 bombing flights he participated in in North Africa and Italy in 1942 and 1943. That plane is at the bottom of the Mediterranean Sea.
In the ensuing 44 years he had never talked about his experiences. But that night it all came spilling out, including the harrowing final four missions.
Brown, who was a waist gunner (with six confirmed fighters shot down) and radio operator aboard the B-17s, died at St. Francis Hospital Sunday, September 27, 2015 after a short illness. He was 94 years old.
In one of those last four 1943 bombing missions the plane landed without wheels down and he injured his right foot in the crash. In the next, his plane was struck and incapacitated by 20-mm cannon fire. He parachuted when the pilot radioed to abandon ship but was the only airman to get out before the plane disintegrated in mid-air. In the next his plane failed to gain altitude upon takeoff and crashed and burned, with ammunition and fuel exploding. Only he and the navigator survived. In the final flight, the shot-up bomber was forced to ditch in the Mediterranean. The entire crew got out and spent hours in the sea but were rescued by a Canadian ship.
After that last flight Brown won a transfer to Liberia where he finished the war as a staff sergeant in charge of a radio transmission hut.
Brown was born in Bromley, Kentucky May 9, 1921. Although he considered a singing career, he enlisted with a friend in 1942 in the U.S. Army Air Corps, attended gunnery and radio schools, and then was shipped to North Africa, where he was based with the 9
Air Force for the next two years.
When the war in Europe was over, he returned to the States, married Artha Ann Shadwick, of Ludlow, Ky., and they raised a family. He worked and went to night school at the University of Cincinnati, earning a degree in mechanical engineering design in 1950. He worked in that field until his retirement in 1988. After a decade of retirement living in Ocala, Florida, the Browns moved to Memphis.
In Memphis they made many friends and were members of Lindenwood Christian Church for 17 years, where he served as president of the Carl Stokes Sunday School class.
Brown is survived by his wife of nearly 69 years, a sister, Virginia L. Brown of Tallahassee, Florida; three children, David Wayne Brown (Deborah Clubb), of Memphis, Stephen Glenn Brown (Linda), of Piqua, Ohio and Julianne Burke (George) of Divide, Colorado; 14 grandchildren, and 23 great-grandchildren.
Visitation will be Saturday, October 3, 2015 from 9:30 till the hour of service at 11:30 all In Ronald B. Jones Funeral Home, 316 Elm Street, Ludlow, KY.
Interment in Forest Lawn Memorial Park, Erlanger, KY.
The Memphis family will receive visitors from 6 to 8 p.m. Wednesday, September 30 at the Memphis home of his son, 1338 Carr Avenue.