On this date in History …. April 12, 1951:
Lt. Thomas Hudner is awarded the Medal of Honor for intentionally crashing his plane into a mountain to try to save U.S. Navy Ensign Jesse Leroy Brown, the first African-American Navy pilot. Hudner was sure his career was over when he crashed “a perfectly good plane” in an attempt to save a black man.
At a very young age, Jesse knew he wanted to be an aviator so he worked hard in school, graduated second in his class at Eureka High School. The was then accepted at Ohio State and became one of the 1% African-American population in that college. When he entered Navy pilot school, he was the only African-American in a class of 600.
While on one of many flying missions, during the Korean War, to support and protect the U.S.S. Leyte, his plane was hit and losing oil pressure. He crash landed on a snowy mountain, 5300 feet in elevation. While he was able to open the hatch and wave to the other pilots to send help, he was unable to leave the plane as his legs were pinned by the wreckage.
The other pilots worked to protect Brown from the hordes of Chinese in the area, but after half an hour, Lt. Hudner decided to kick it up a notch. Without alerting or asking permission from his commander, Hudner turned his plane into the wind to slow down his speed and crashed his plane about a 100 yards from Brown. Hudner said years later, about this decision:
“I knew what I had to do. I was not going to leave him down there for the Chinese. Besides, it was 30 degrees below zero on that slope, and he was a fellow aviator. My association with the Marines had rubbed off on me. They don’t leave wounded Marines behind.”
Rescue helicopters arrived with axes to try to get Brown out of the wreckage. In addition to fighting extreme cold temperatures, there was also smoke coming from the wreckage. Hudner threw snow on the fire, but only managed to somewhat control it but unable to put it out. Darkness was falling and the helicopters were not equipped to fly at night. Brown was barely conscious and still trapped. The last thing he said to Hudner was “Tell my wife Daisy I love her.” The rescue team was forced to fly off and the order came down from their commander for an air strike to napalm the crash site, cremating the frozen body of Ensign Brown.
“Hudner after the failed rescued figured he would be reprimanded and his Naval career ended for crashing a perfectly fine Corsair aircraft in a failed attempt to save one man, a black man at that. However, Lieutenant Hudner’s command did something totally unexpected, they instead recommended him for the nation’s highest combat award, the Medal of Honor. Additionally the deceased Ensign Brown was awarded the second highest honor for combat pilots, the Distinguished Flying Cross.” (source: www.rokdrop.com)
When Hudner received his Medal of Honor at the White House, there was one lone African American woman standing next to him. Daisy Brown, the wife of Ensign Brown, watched as Hudner received the medal for his heroic attempts to save her husband and she received the last message from her husband, “Tell Daisy I love her.”
In 1972 a destroyer was named the USS Jesse L. Brown. Daisy and Thomas Hudner were there for the christening ceremony.