The Navy’s newest Arleigh Burke class guided-missile destroyer has been christened with the name of a living Medal of Honor winner. It will be known as the USS Thomas J. Hudner (DDG-116).
On Dec. 4, 1950, then Lieutenant Thomas Hudner, a U.S. Navy pilot, did something unimaginable in an effort to help his wingman and best friend whose Corsair fighter plane had been hit and crash-landed near the Chosin Reservoir in Korea. The now 92 year old Hudner was able to be present and to participate in the christening of the new destroyer being named after him.
The day was wet and cold at the Bath Iron Works shipyard in Bath, Maine, but the christening was attended by two other Medal of Honor winners and friends and family as well as a small crowd of others. It is a rare honor, indeed, to have a Navy ship named after a living veteran. This ship has a truly honorable name to live up to when it joins the fleet.
Hudner was born in Fall River, MA, the son of a well-to-do grocery store owner. He served in the United States Navy from 1946-1973 after graduating from the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis, MD. He retired with the rank of Captain. He flew fighter planes in the Korean War and in the Vietnam War. During his service in Korea he was awarded the Medal of Honor. His other awards include the Legion of Merit, a Bronze Star, and an Air Medal. Those are the stats, now let’s get to the story behind his Medal of Honor and the reason why a new Navy ship is being named after him.
On Dec. 4, 1950 then Lieutenant Hudner and his wingman Ensign Jesse Brown took off in their Corsair fighters from the USS Leyte heading for the Chosin Reservoir to support the beleaguered Marines who were outnumbered and surrounded there by Chinese forces. Ensign Brown was an African-American and the son of Mississippi sharecroppers. One might think that these two men, being from such different backgrounds, especially at that time in our history when segregation was still the common practice in much of the US, would be unlikely friends. But that is what they were, indeed, the best of friends. On that day the power of that friendship would become heroically evident in what Hudner did for his friend, Ensign Brown.
Brown’s Corsair was struck by heavy Chinese ground fire. It began leaking oil and other fluids rapidly and he was forced to crash-land on the slope of a snow-covered mountain in enemy held territory. Hudner, flying over his friend could see that he had actually survived the crash, but he could also see that Brown was struggling, unsuccessfully, to get out of the crashed plane. Brown had been severely injured and the plane was beginning to burn.
Hudner could not stand to see his friend in that perilous situation without any help by his side.
Adam Makos, the author of a book about what Hudner did that day called, “Devotion,” said of Hudner, “What Tom did is one of the greatest feats of bravery in any war.”
Hudner did the unimaginable. He chose to go down and help his buddy. He did a wheels-up, belly landing in a flatter area nearby Brown’s downed plane. Remember, too, this is in Chinese held territory, and “crash-landing” a plane is never a good thing, but to choose to do it on purpose, to help a friend, is something for the history books indeed.
Hudner got to his friend and very soon after he arrived, a helicopter rescue crew arrived as well. They tried everything to get Brown out of the wreckage, even taking an axe to the damaged cockpit, to no avail. Brown was fading and, finally, he looked up into Hudner’s eyes and said, “Just tell Daisy I love her.”
He lost consciousness and died soon after that.
Ensign Brown’s own story is awesome as well. He, too, has had a ship named after him. It is a US Navy Frigate, the USS Jesse L. Brown (FF-1089).
Thomas Hudner has lived a long and productive life both in the Navy and afterwards. We can only imagine how often he has thought about his friend, Jesse Brown. We can take his courage and their deep friendship for one another as an example for ourselves.
The Veterans Site sends its deepest respect and honor to Thomas Hudner and his family. May you know only Fair Winds and Following Seas!
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.