60 years after his plane was shot down during the Korean War, the Navy’s first black pilot may be coming home.
Ensign Jesse Brown was the Navy’s first black pilot, but only two years after making history, Brown’s plane would be shot down in combat in North Korea. His wingman, Lieutenant junior grade (Lt. j.g.) Thomas Hudner crash-landed his own plane to come to Brown’s aid —and earned the Medal of Honor for his bravery — but he was unable to pull the Ensign out of his burning plane. The Associated Press reports:
A chopper hovered nearby. Lt. j.g. Thomas Hudner could save himself, but not his friend. With the light fading, the threat of enemy fire all around him and Brown losing consciousness, the white son of a New England grocery-store magnate made a promise to the black son of a sharecropper:
“We’ll come back for you.”
More than 60 years have passed. Hudner is now 88. But he did not forget. He has come back.
The North Korean government has granted Hudner permission to lead a “special expedition,” which includes members of the North Korean People’s Army, into the region known in N. Korea as the Jangjin Reservoir to search for the site where Brown died in December, 1950.
The reservoir was the site of one of the Korean War’s deadliest battles for Americans, who knew the place by its Japanese name, Chosin. The snowy mountain region was nicknamed the “Frozen Chosin,” and survivors are known in U.S. history books as the “Chosin Few.”
The Battle of the Chosin Reservoir lasted for 17 brutal days. Some 6,000 Americans were killed in combat, and thousands more succumbed to the cold. Brown and many others who died there are among more than 7,910 Americans still missing in action from the war.
Next week’s mission is to pick up where search teams have left off by locating the exact spot of Brown’s crash. Armed with maps and coordinates, they hope to work with North Korean soldiers to excavate the remote area, a sealed site controlled by the North Korean military.
Hudner hopes that if their search is successful it will give both himself and Brown’s widow some closure. He explains that, as Brown was losing consciousness he was able to give one last order to the Lt. j.g.. His thoughts turning to his wife, he whispered, “If I don’t make it, please tell Daisy I love her.”
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Feature photo: AP File/U.S. Navy
Photo: AP File/Charles Krupa