A while back I wrote about Thomas Hudner’s courageous effort to save the life of his friend, Jesse L. Brown, after Brown’s plane was hit and crash landed during the Battle of the Chosin Reservoir in Korea in 1950. Now, I must report that on April 4, 2018, Hudner was buried at Arlington National Cemetery with full honors.
He died on November 13, 2017, in Concord, Massachusetts at the noble age of 93.
During the Battle of the Chosin Reservoir, Hudner, a Navy aviator was flying as Brown’s wingman in support of the Marines on the ground who were being attacked and besieged by superior numbers of Chinese troops. Brown’s plane was hit and he was forced to crash land his plane in enemy held territory.
Hudner, seeing that his friend was still alive, made a profoundly difficult, and some say ill-advised decision to crash land his own plane to try to help his friend. A helicopter rescue team had arrived as well, but they were unable to get Brown out of the mangled and smoldering cockpit of his plane.
Brown’s last words to Hudner were to tell his wife that he loved her.
Hudner’s decision to crash land his own plane to help his friend was an act of extraordinary courage motivated by fraternal love. It was considered extraordinary in another way as well, given the times in American history. You see, Hudner was white and Brown was an African American. Brown, the first African American Naval Aviator to be awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross, and Hudner were from completely different backgrounds yet had formed a bond of friendship that in other circumstances in those segregated days would have been problematic back home.
Hudner would return to Korea in the 90s in an unsuccessful effort to find the remains of his friend.
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Many in the upper echelons of command at that time did not think Hudner should be awarded for his heroic act, but President Harry Truman recognized his heroism. Truman awarded Hudner the Medal of Honor for what he did under such dangerous, life-threatening circumstances in enemy territory to try to save fellow flyer and friend.
In my own estimation, Hudner acted in accord with the highest ideals of the U.S. military. That is, to “leave no man behind.”
After Korea, Hudner continued to fly for the Navy, making the transition to jet fighters. He retired with the rank of Captain in 1973 serving as the head of Aviation Technical Training in the office of the Chief of Naval Operations.
In his post-Navy life, Hudner was active in several veterans support groups and for a time was the Commissioner of Veterans Services for the state of Massachusetts. He was a Golden-Life member of the U.S. Naval Institute. In 2012 a new Arleigh Burke-class destroyer was named for him, the USS Thomas Hudner (DDG-116). It will be commissioned sometime this year. His friend Jesse L. Brown has a ship named after him too, the destroyer escort, USS Jesse L Brown (DE-1089).
The Veterans Site wishes to send its condolences to the Hudner family and to offer our thanks and eternal respect to Capt. Thomas Hudner for his heroism in the terrors of battle and for his dedication to a friend. He is a role model for all of us. Rest in Peace.
Fair Winds and Following Seas
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Dan Doyle is a husband, father, grandfather, Vietnam veteran, and retired professor of Humanities at Seattle University. He taught 13 years at the high school level and 22 years at the university level. He spends his time now babysitting his granddaughter. He is a poet and a blogger as well. Dan holds an AA degree in English Literature, a BA in Comparative Literature, and an MA in Theology, and writes regularly for The Veterans Site Blog.