View Full Version : Three wars and a lot of history for this Marine

11-12-08, 08:30 AM
Three wars and a lot of history for this Marine
A retired Marine pilot will share his experiences with Marines at Camp Pendleton on Wednesday.

MISSION VIEJO - Ask C. E. "Snuffy" Brown about his days as a Marine pilot and he'll deliver a story with a punch of humor and wit.

It's part of his shtick as he prepares to deliver a speech to 800 Marines with the 1st Marine Division at Camp Pendleton's annual Marine Corps 233rd Birthday Ball on Wednesday.

After serving 24 years, Brown retired from the Marine Corps as a Major.

"You might say it was thrilling," said Brown. "It was a great life when they weren't shooting at you," he said with a smile.

He piloted planes during WWII, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War. In aviation, he says, it breaks down to a simple theorem: Takeoffs are optional, landings are mandatory. And sometimes "you land without your airplane."

At 85, it's the politics and jokes that he recounts as he combs through memories from his Mission Viejo home, scratching at his arms, which he explains is a condition that was caused by Agent Orange, the defoliant used by the military in the jungles of Vietnam.


Brown classifies WWII as the second rebellion. He was stationed at bases in the U.S. and was sent to Luzon, Philippines. He piloted Dive Bombers on missions he called milk runs.

"You went to the target, bombed, and came home. It was another day on the farm," he said. The attitude was much different than fighting in Korea and Vietnam. "We were teenagers. We were indestructible; no one could kill us."

"Everyone was patriotic in WWII. Everyone wanted revenge on the Japanese." He can recall the message was everywhere – propagated by Hollywood. He remembers Clark Gable and Jimmy Stewart going to war.

The Korean War was different – he calls it a police action. Brown, stationed at Buson and Kangnung, piloted a F7F-3N Tigercat armed with rockets, napalm, and canons. He flew 100 night missions – flying 20 feet above the ground aiming for enemy trucks on the three main roads out of China. It was such a small plane that he could reach out and touch the guns with his hands.

In Korea he remembers "death was all around and you had more responsibility because you were up the ladder more."

The Vietnam War he calls Johnson's folly. "All of us were disgusted by the politics; however, in the military you can't say anything against the commander-in-chief."

In Vietnam, he was stationed at Danang for a year, shuttling generals across the Pacific Rim.


When it's time to talk about the tough stuff he leans forward from his recliner and sets his chin against the back of his cane.

"You try to remember the funny things and forget the ones when someone doesn't come home," he said.

He doesn't share much. The numbers say it: When he graduated from flight school in 1944 there were 1,000 cadets in his graduating class. By 1954, he was 1 of 4 surviving members.

"It wasn't my time," he said.


Brown retired in 1965 after receiving a request. He remembers it vividly. He was sitting at Danang writing orders when the mail clerk had dropped a letter on his desk. His sons had written him a letter asking if they could graduate with their friends at Foothill High School in Tustin. "I said, 'You bet.'" They had been to a total of eleven schools.

When he finally retired, he became a flight school instructor for Douglas Aircraft. He taught airline pilots how to fly the DC-8, DC-9, DC-10 and C-17 which are still flying today.

Brown was married for more than 56 years. He remembers his wife, Elaine, as the hero of the family – raising their two sons.

"She was the supply sergeant, the paymaster sergeant, the sergeant major, the executive officer, and the commanding office of the Brown household," he said. She died four years ago.

In their home he proudly displays two model airplanes he flew in the war and he has pinned his medals onto a formal jacket. He is most proud of the Distinguished Flying Cross medal.

Now, Brown is part of Casta del Sol Marine Club, a volunteer organization, in a Mission Viejo retirement community that holds fundraisers and provides other supportive services to the city's adopted Marines.

He lives by the motto: "Once a Marine, always a Marine."

As for his plane, it's out of the military's commission but in top shape. Mike Brown, a pilot in Northern California flies it in races across the county.

Contact the writer: lbaguio@ocregister.com 949-454-7363