A 92-year-old Medal of Honor recipient, who crashed-landed his own plane during the Korean War in an attempt to save a fellow aviator, was honored Saturday when the U.S. Navy named destroyer battleship after him for his bravery.
IN 1950, Naval aviator Thomas Hudner watched as a fellow pilot’s plane burst into flames after crash=landing behind enemy lines, The Associated Press reported. The pilot, 24-year-old Ensign Jesse Brown, was trapped into the cockpit of the burning plane.
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The only thing the lieutenant could think to do was crash land his own plane.
“What Tom did is one of the greatest feats of bravery in any war,” said Adam Makos, who authored a book about Hudner called “Devotion.”
During a snow storm in Bath Ironworks in Maine on Saturday, Hudner watched from his wheelchair as the future USS Thomas Hudner was christened. His wife, Georgea, children and the ship’s sponsors – as well as Brown’s daughter and two brothers – braved the wet and cold alongside Hudner.
Other Medal of Honor recipients were also in the audience, as well as Marine Corps veterans who credited naval aviators for saving their lives during the Battle of Chosin Reservoir in North Korea, where brutal cold and enemy bullets took the lives of Marines.
“Without the fighter pilots, we wouldn’t be here today,” said John “Red” Parkinson, a Marine corporal during the battle.
Parkinson commented that the snowy weather seemed appropriate for the ceremony, which celebrated heroism and friendship.
Brown was the son of Mississippi sharecroppers and became the first black aviator in U.S. Navy history. Hudner, a son of a white well-to-do grocery store owner in Massachusetts, became fast friends with Brown despite their differences.
One of Brown’s brothers, Fletcher Brown, said the two bonded over their ambition and love of flying.
“From what I know about Tom and what I know about Jesse, they were probably two of a kind,” Jesse Brown said. “The only difference is one was wealthy and one was a cotton picker.”
On Dec. 5, 1950, Hudner and Brown departed from aircraft carrier USS Leyte to protect Marines who were outnumbered by Chinese soldiers.
After Brown’s gull-winged F4U Corsair was struck by fire on the ground, it began to leak oil, and he crash-landed on a snowy mountainside. Brown survived the hard landing but suffered injuries and was trapped inside the airplane, which was burning on enemy territory.
Hudner saw that Brown was unable to escape while circling overhead, and, disobeying orders to not sacrifice his plane, did a wheels-u belly landing in his own plane, running to his friend’s aid. The Boston Globe reported.
.@COMNAVSURFLANT prepares to welcome USS Thomas Hudner – https://t.co/ahXSr3nce5 pic.twitter.com/W4VaWpU4sN
— U.S. Navy (@USNavy) November 18, 2015
The situation was plagued by seemingly opposite dangers: the threat of the fire or the threat of the bitter temperature, which hovered just above zero.
Hudner and a crew from an emergency helicopter took an ax to the plane but was unable to free Brown, who lost consciousness during their efforts.
“An aviator is calculating by nature and all he had to do was look around to know he wasn’t coming home,” Hudner said before Saturday’s ceremony, adding that Brown’s last words to him were: “Just tell Daisy how much I love her,” referencing Brown’s wife.
Capt. Thomas Hudner, one of our state's true heroes, continues to serve
Korea veteran, one last mission http://t.co/aFsgPkAfmV @BostonGlobe
— Gabriel Gomez (@GomezForMA) July 19, 2013
One year later, Hudner kept his promise to return, but Brown’s remains were never found A U.S. Navy frigate was named for him in 1973.
Hudner retired from the Navy in 1973 and later served as Massachusetts commissioner of veterans’ services in the 1990s, according to The Boston Globe.
Champagne was broken on the bow of the 509-foot warship to christen the Arleigh Burke-class destroyer, but Hudner, ever so modestly, said the act that led to that moment was as simple as helping a shipmate.
“If it had been me down there on the ground, Jesse would have done the same thing for me,” he said of Brown.
(H/T: The Associated Press)
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