Wally Brown uses his backhoe to help his neighbors in the Thunderbird Farms area. He is 93 years old and a veteran of World War II. Photo by Michelle Chance

Wallace Brown, 93, flew a P-51 Mustang as a fighter pilot in the U.S. Army Air Corp during World War II.

“I’ve seen most everything. I’ve done most everything. I’ve reached the speed of sound,” he said, reminiscing inside his home in Thunderbird Farms.

“I just accept things as they come along, that’s the way life is. Take it, embrace it.” — Wallace Brown

One of seven children, Brown was born in Alabama in 1923 with dreams of soaring the sky. He entered basic training in 1943 and eventually earned his wings and commission as an officer.

Brown’s time in the service ended in 1945 when the war concluded. The veteran’s experiences in the air did not come without sacrifice, however.

While participating in an advanced training exercise at Luke Air Force Base in Phoenix in 1944, Brown’s plane crashed after a mid-air collision with another aircraft that was attempting to get back in formation.

Aided by his training and his parachute, Brown floated safely to the ground.

“When you are up in the sky and you are out on your own, everything falls at the same rate of speed. Your body, pieces of metal — I could have picked it up and put it in my pocket, see,” Brown said.

He found out not long after landing the man in the other plane had died in the explosive accident.

That man was Brown’s friend, Robert “Bobby” Boyles.

Brown, prompted by the death of his friend, wrote to Boyles’ parents in Illinois after the crash, but was asked to cease his communication with them.

“I didn’t write back anymore. I didn’t stop by. I wanted to go visit his folks, but I wouldn’t do it. He was a pretty good guy, I liked him,” Brown said.

The parachute that saved Brown hangs framed in his living room wall. It is a testament to his survival, and to the memory of the day he lost his friend.

After the military, Brown opened his own business and eventually made his way to Maricopa, where his company installed large water tanks.

In 1975, he bought property in Thunderbird Farms and made his home there years later.

Brown is now retired from work and from flight, but the former fighter pilot hasn’t lost much speed: He operates heavy machinery like his backhoe, rides his ATV and lives independently.

Brown said he has been able to keep an active lifestyle because of his military training.

“It all goes back to the Air Force and the cadet training — they teach you discipline. You just don’t do things that aren’t right. You do things that are right,” Brown said.

The local hero attributes his long life to helping others and to doing the right thing.

“I just accept things as they come along, that’s the way life is. Take it, embrace it. If you can discard something you don’t want, do it. If you take it, go with it, that’s what makes you feel good. That’s what keeps you young,” he said.

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