God willing, Milwaukee resident James Brown will celebrate his 95th birthday on January 28th

January 26, 2023

On the day he was born in 1928, American aviator Charles Lindbergh successfully completed a solo flight across the Andes Mountain range in South America. This was less than a year after he changed the course of history by successfully completing a solo flight across the Atlantic Ocean from New York City to Paris, France, without refueling.

Milwaukee’s James Brown (not to be confused with the more famous entertainer who died in 2006), is not one to sit around and count the years. Last summer Brown, a long-time aviator himself, successfully co-piloted a private airplane and even assumed control of the cockpit controls during the flight around Racine.

There is no maximum age for obtaining a private pilot license, according to the Federal Aviation Administration, but in order to be certified, the applicant must successfully pass a rigorous medical examination and be recertified every two years. Brown said he has no plans to become recertified as a private pilot, (a certification he held for more than 20 years), but added it was thrilling fun for him once again to sit in a cockpit, go through the preflight checklist with the pilot and sit back while the plane climbed into the clouds. Brown said he continues to maintain his motor vehicle license from the DMV.

Given his long and active life, perhaps it is not surprising that this is not his first brush with history. After the outbreak of the Korean War in 1952, Brown was drafted into the Army, becoming part of the first class of African American recruits to be integrated into U.S. Armed Forces. Brown said he performed very capably during basic training and wound up being assigned to a 4-person combat tank crew in the 3rd Armored Division, one of the most famous and highly decorated units in U.S. military history.

Brown said that despite the fact that he was the only African American aboard the troop ship that brought him and hundreds of other new recruits to Europe to help police the Berlin Wall, he was not lonely and did not suffer from any prejudice.

“The word got around the ship that I had completed the same training they had,” he said. “A couple of them told me that I had been ‘certified’ and that like them I was no longer afraid to die. Once you’ve been trained to expect the worst, you are no longer afraid of failing. At least that’s what the Army told me.”

Brown, who retired from the former Milwaukee-based auto manufacturer A.O. Smith after 30 years of service in 1981, has many other productive talents besides combat tank mechanic, pensioner and aviator. He is also an entrepreneur; he started his first business, a shoe shine operation when he was eight-years-old. He is also a life-long investor, who owns stocks and farmland in northern Wisconsin. Recently he purchased the former office building of The Milwaukee Times Weekly Newspaper for his granddaughter’s business on a rent-to-buy contract from Lynda Jackson Conyers after she sold The Milwaukee Times and retired.

Brown is even a bit of a comedian. When asked if he ever got frustrated being confused with or teased about sharing a name with “the hardest working man in show business,” Brown said “Both Charles Lindbergh and ‘the hardest working man in show business’ are deceased,” he said. “I’m still going.