“Most of my life was full of rough challenges and opportunities,” said Fort Wayne resident Dr. Al Brothers. “The goal is to turn those challenges into opportunities.”
And that’s what Dr. Brothers did. “I Initially went through Air Force ROTC at Boston University and then from there into pilot training,” he said.
This former Air Force captain and son of a World War Two veteran, was a pilot in the Vietnam War. “I was there between 1970 and 1972 flying B-52’s and B-57’s. I was one of the youngest aircraft commanders at the time flying B-52’s. I’m one of the few guys who had to do manual refueling in a B-52.”
Brothers has shared his vietnam memories with many, including an interview with PBS 39 Fort Wayne’s Public Television Station. Recently the 76-year old shared those memories and more with WANE 15 at the Allen County Public Library. The Air Force retiree moved to Fort Wayne from Massachusetts and became an engineer for a company now called Raytheon. It’s here where he rose to what you could call a revolutionary challenge.
“It was a challenge at Raytheon. They had a diversity department and one of the key things they asked about was getting more information about African Americans in the military. So my challenge was in 30 minutes to try to get a brief synopsis of African Americans all the way from the Revolutionary War through World War Two.”
That brief project led to extensive research at the ACPL’s Genealogy Center and Brothers uncovering a long line of relatives dating back to the Revolutionary War, before America got her stars and stripes. “I had two in the Revolutionary War and 31 in the Civil War and all 31 were free born living in New England,” said Brothers. “All were on my grandmother’s side on my father’s side and her family were the ones really involved. They were in the 54th and 55th Massachusetts Infantry Regiment and the 5th Regiment Massachusetts Colored Calvary. The 54th was the same group portrayed in the television movie Glory.”
“The movie Glory was an interesting one but it gave a slightly false impression,” said Brothers. “When I saw Glory I thought the 54th was wiped out but only two of the men were killed in the 54th according to my research. It was true the commander died and two people died but not the entire regiment.”
Brother’s relatives were among those who were killed in battle. “It was interesting to find out what they contributed. To get a glimpse into what types of lives they led. So many people think African Americans weren’t involved but we were.”
In addition to researching his heritage Brothers now helps others trace theirs’. He teaches a class offered by The Midwest African American Genealogy Institute in partnership the Allen County Public Library. “It covers the gamet from DNA through military research and more. It’s important to take a look and see what your ancestors did,” said Brothers. “Whether it’s here in the U.S. or someplace else because it gives you a better understanding of who you are because it can build a background of who you came to be.”
Dr. Brothers will hold his next class in the summer of 2019. More information can be found by going to the Midwest African American Genealogy Institute website. The Genealogy Center at the Allen County Public Library can also provide details. Go to its website or call 260-421-1225.
An extended version of Dr. Brothers’ story will be featured in WANE 15’s Hidden History special Celebrating Black History month on Saturday, February 23rd at 7:30 p.m.