U.S. Army Air Corps veteran Owen Brough, 96, was raised on a farm in East Tremonton, Utah.
At his graduation from Bear River High School in 1934 he received a $100 scholarship from Union Pacific for a “Future Farmers” project.
“The money paid for my tuition and books for my first year at Utah State University,” he said.
In March of 1937, Brough went on a Mormon mission to the British Isles. He spent the first three months in Belfast, Northern Ireland.
“In June, we rode bikes to London to see the coronation of (King George VI).”
As a sideline, Owen started pitching for a missionary baseball team — the Rockdale Grays — in a semi-pro league in northern England. The team won the British National Championship that year.
After returning home in 1939, he met his future bride, Alice, on a blind date. The couple has been married for 72 years.
After marrying, he worked on the farm while attending Utah State.
“Then along came the war,” he said. “I had my pilot’s license — I took flying lessons in college — but because I was married, I could not get into Air Corps flight school.”
He took his basic training in Texas, where, “We marched every day for two months.”
To remove himself from the daily grind, he volunteered for Kitchen Patrol (KP) duty.
“I ate steak every night and I got to sleep all day,” he said, laughing.
He trained as a meteorologist and spent several months at airfields in Oregon and Washington, and attended weather forecasters school at Chanute Field in Illinois.
Brough, who was tapped to be an officer, was sent to officer’s training school in Miami. He graduated three months later as a 2nd lieutenant and was assigned to Paine Field in Everett, Wash. where he served as a weather officer.
Every day, he drew the weather maps used by pilots flying in and out of the airfield.
“I learned to forecast pretty good,” he said.
Two months later, he received orders to go overseas. He was sent to the East Coast, and was aboard a transport ship on New Year’s Eve, unsure of his destination, but headed somewhere across the Atlantic in a large convoy.
“There must have been 400 ships. They were as far as the eye could see.”
About 20 days later, they arrived on the west coast of Liberia in North Africa where he and about 25 officers and 100 enlisted men were assigned to Robertsfield.
“I spent eleven months forecasting weather for flights across the South Atlantic through the dangerous, thunderstorm-riddled Intertropical front.”
Weather predicting was a “do-it-yourself” proposition in those far-flung environs.
“There was no information out there in that ocean,” he said. “We had to figure out where the big, bad thunderstorms were.”
That meant gathering as much information as possible from pilots flying in — and deploying other aircraft to scout the conditions in the open sea.
They’d transmit the data, by code, to pilots of the C-46 cargo planes flying in from Brazil to Liberia, England, or the China-Burma-India route.
Fifty to 200 planes were shuttled through the area every night.
“I guided several thousand planes through that front,” he said.
After about a year, Brough and his men were transferred to Libya, where they opened a new air base in Tripoli.
The fliers relied heavily on Brough’s ability to predict the movement of fog.
One day when the fog was starting to roll in, “a lieutenant colonel came in for a weather report. I told him, ‘You better leave in the next 15 or 20 minutes or you won’t get it off the ground.’”
A big plane, with curtains over the windows, sat on the runway ready for take-off.
“It was President (Franklin) Roosevelt. He was going to the Yalta Conference.”
“While stationed in Libya and Liberia, I was fortunate to fly as a weather observer on many flights and visited Brazil and many countries in central, west, and north Africa.”
When he returned home after the war, he resumed college at Utah State. With the help of the GI Bill and assistant-ships, he earned Bachelor and Masters degrees in Agricultural Science.
He earned a Ph.D in Agricultural Economics and Statistics from Iowa State University in 1950.
Later that year, he began teaching at Washington State University, where he taught graduate courses, performed research, and sat on a number of policy committees. He was promoted to full professor in 1957.
In 1962, he took a one-year leave of absence from WSU and accepted a special assignment with the Ford Foundation. He and his family — which by now included son, Steve and daughter, Sally — moved to the Middle East to assist in the development of an economic-research and statistics department in the Ministry of Agriculture in Lebanon, Syria. They later moved to Beirut, and the one-year leave stretched into two.
He returned to WSU for a year, but “the desire to continue work overseas pulled me back to Beirut as director of agricultural programs in Lebanon, Syria, and Jordan.”
He helped develop an agricultural college at the University of Aleppo in Syria and was later assigned to the American University in Beirut to start a Ph.D program in plant science.
He was later appointed director of the Arid Lands Agricultural Development Program.
While serving in that position, he helped get the new semi-dwarf wheat variety established in Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, and Egypt, which included getting the new seed to farmers and the proper amount of fertilizer — always in short supply — for maximizing the farmers’ crop yields.
In 1976, the new research organization, International Center for Agricultural Research in Dry Areas (ICARDA) was formed and Brough was named its first director of operations.
He said his staff — which featured 150 people, including 40 Ph.Ds — were able to substantially increase the yields of the country’s wheat, barley, lentils, and garbanzo beans.
Its headquarters are near Aleppo — which today is one of the hotspots in Syria’s raging civil war.
“We had 20 nationalities and nine different religions or sub-religions represented on that staff,” he said. “We all got along well.”
Born: March 29, 1916
Hometown: Tremonton, Utah
Residence: Palm Desert
Branch of service: U.S. Army Air Corps
Years of service: April, 1942 – Sept. 1946
Rank: World War II: 1st Lieutenant; Retired from the U.S. Air Force Reserve as Lieutenant Colonel
Family: Wife Alice; two children, Steven Brough of La Quinta and Sally Brough of Palm Desert; two grandchildren.