RIP Thomas J. Hudner Jr., first MOH recipient from Korea

 
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RIP Thomas J. Hudner Jr., first MOH recipient from Korea

Saw this yesterday in the Boston Globe, and while not unexpected, nonetheless always a sad event to lose a man of such integrity and honor:

One was the son of a Mississippi sharecropper, the other a privileged New England prep school graduate. One died young, a casualty of wartime. The other lived a long life celebrated for its service to country and to championing racial equality.

Navy Ensign Jesse L. Brown and Lieutenant Thomas J. Hudner Jr., who died Monday at age 93, will forever be linked in history by who they were and what they did. On Dec. 4, 1950, the two pilots were near North Korea’s Chosin Reservoir when Brown’s plane was shot down, crash-landing on a snow-packed mountainside. Spotting Brown waving from the cockpit, Mr. Hudner ditched his own plane near Brown’s and attempted to free his friend from the smoking wreckage. He could not and was evacuated by helicopter as darkness descended.

“We’ll be back for you,” he told a dying Brown, who had a wife and 2-year-old daughter back home.

Navy officers, however, believed a return trip to the crash site would be futile and rejected the mission.

In 2013, Mr. Hudner returned to North Korea in hopes of retrieving the remains of Brown. Although he failed to, his wartime heroics had long ago become the stuff of legend.

The Washington Post has more:

“I was changing into flight gear and he came in and nodded ‘Hello,’ ” Capt. Hudner told the New York Times, remembering his first encounter with Brown. “I introduced myself, but he made no gesture to shake hands. I think he did not want to embarrass me and have me not shake his hand. I think I forced my hand into his.”

Capt. Hudner attributed his egalitarianism to his father, who, he told CNN, had taught him that “a man will reveal his character through his actions, not his skin color.” Brown, who had nurtured a love of airplanes from childhood, by all accounts won the admiration of his squadron with his skill.

By late 1950, the two men had been deployed to Korea, where the United States was fighting with South Korea against the communist North Koreans and Chinese. On Dec. 4, they joined a six-man flying team sent on a reconnaissance mission to support outnumbered American forces in the frigid Chosin Reservoir.[…]

Capt. Hudner’s Medal of Honor, presented to him by Truman in April 1951 and in the presence of Daisy Brown, was the first such award bestowed in the Korean War. Brown posthumously received the Distinguished Flying Cross.

 The story is one of my favorites, and luckily if you want to read more about it, there is an entire book about it, in fact, one of my favorite military history books of all time, Devotion: An Epic Story of Heroism, Friendship, and Sacrifice, by Adam Makos

Devotion tells the inspirational story of the US Navy's most famous aviator duo, Lieutenant Tom Hudner and Ensign Jesse Brown, and the marines they fought to defend.

A white New Englander from the country-club scene, Tom passed up Harvard to fly fighters for his country. An African American sharecropper's son from Mississippi, Jesse became the navy's first black carrier pilot, defending a nation that wouldn't even serve him in a bar.

While much of America remained divided by segregation, Jesse and Tom joined forces as wingmen in Fighter Squadron 32. Adam Makos takes us into the cockpit as these bold young aviators cut their teeth at the world's most dangerous job - landing on the deck of an aircraft carrier - and a line of work that Jesse's young wife, Daisy, struggles to accept.

Deployed to the Mediterranean, Tom and Jesse meet the Fleet Marines, boys like PFC "Red" Parkinson, a farm kid from the Catskills. In between war games in the sun, the young men revel on the Riviera, partying with millionaires and even befriending the Hollywood starlet Elizabeth Taylor. Then comes the war no one expected, in faraway Korea.

Devotion takes us soaring overhead with Tom and Jesse and into the foxholes with Red and the marines as they battle a North Korean invasion. As the fury of the fighting escalates and the marines are cornered at the Chosin Reservoir, Tom and Jesse fly, guns blazing, to try to save them. When one of the duo is shot down behind enemy lines and pinned in his burning plane, the other faces an unthinkable choice: watch his friend die or attempt history's most audacious one-man rescue mission.

A tug-at-the-heartstrings tale of bravery and selflessness, Devotion asks: How far would you go to save a friend?

Here’s a few videos that you might enjoy if you want to know more of the story without (or perhaps before) reading 400+ pages of it.

Here is the actual award ceremony, although unfortunately it doesn’t have audio, you can see Mr, Hudner and Mr. Brown’s widow.

And for more on Ensign Jesse Brown, the University of Central Florida’s College of Arts and Humanities made an incredible documentary:

RIP Thomas J. Hudner Jr., as much as we hate to lose you, I’m sure you are happy to be back alongside your wingman.

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Thank you for the tribute to Capt Hudner. After attending his funeral today, I am happy to see this wonderful tribute.

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News from the World of Military and Veterans Issues. Iraq and A-Stan in parenthesis reflects that the author is currently deployed to that theater.