Today's honoree beyond any shadow of a doubt embodied both what it means to go "above and beyond the normal call of duty" and the lengths to which the American fighting man will go to see that no man is left behind. While this post bears the name of just one man, it is really about two officers of the United States Navy whose lives are forever linked by the events of December 4, 1950.
Thomas Jerome Hudner, Jr. was born in Fall River, Massachusetts on August 31, 1924. He began his course of study at the United States Naval Academy in 1943 but didn't serve during World War II, receiving his commission in 1946. Hudner was a classmate of both Jimmy Carter and James Stockdale at Annapolis. In 1948, after serving on surface ships for two years, Hudner decided to pursue a career as a Naval Aviator and earned his "Wings of Gold" in 1949.
HUDNER, THOMAS JEROME, JR.
Rank and organization: Lieutenant (J.G.) U.S. Navy, pilot in Fighter Squadron 32, attached to U.S.S. Leyte. Place and date: Chosin Reservoir area of Korea, 4 December 1950. Entered service at: Fall River, Mass. Born: 31 August 1924, Fall River, Mass. Citation. For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty as a pilot in Fighter Squadron 32, while attempting to rescue a squadron mate whose plane struck by antiaircraft fire and trailing smoke, was forced down behind enemy lines. Quickly maneuvering to circle the downed pilot and protect him from enemy troops infesting the area, Lt. (J.G.) Hudner risked his life to save the injured flier who was trapped alive in the burning wreckage. Fully aware of the extreme danger in landing on the rough mountainous terrain and the scant hope of escape or survival in subzero temperature, he put his plane down skillfully in a deliberate wheels-up landing in the presence of enemy troops. With his bare hands, he packed the fuselage with snow to keep the flames away from the pilot and struggled to pull him free. Unsuccessful in this, he returned to his crashed aircraft and radioed other airborne planes, requesting that a helicopter be dispatched with an ax and fire extinguisher. He then remained on the spot despite the continuing danger from enemy action and, with the assistance of the rescue pilot, renewed a desperate but unavailing battle against time, cold, and flames. Lt. (J.G.) Hudner's exceptionally valiant action and selfless devotion to a shipmate sustain and enhance the highest traditions of the U.S. Naval Service.
As darkness fell, the rescue helicopter had to withdraw. Brown, whose final words were to let his wife know of his love, is thought to have died from exposure to the cold shortly afterwards. Hudner pleaded with superiors to be allowed to mount an additional rescue attempt, but the request was denied as being too dangerous. Two days later, the crash site was bombed by American aircraft so as to prevent the two planes from falling into enemy hands. Ensign Brown's remains were never recovered.
Our Navy did not forget its first African-American aviator. On February 17, 1973, the USS Jesse L. Brown (FF-1089), a Knox-class frigate, was commissioned. The ship served in the Atlantic Fleet for twenty-one years until her decommissioning on July 27, 1994.
Hudner retired from the Navy as a Captain in 1973, not long after he was present at the commissioning of the ship named for his fallen comrade. He is still alive today. On May 7, 2012, the Secretary of the Navy announced that the 66th Arleigh Burke-class destroyer, expected to be commissioned in 2016, will be christened the USS Thomas Hudner (DDG-116).
Strike Fighter Squadron 32 (VFA-32), the unit Hudner and Brown fought with over Korea, is today equipped with the Boeing F/A-18F Super Hornet. Their home base is Naval Air Station Oceana, Virginia Beach, Virginia. They are assigned to Carrier Air Wing THREE which flies from the USS Harry S. Truman (CVN-75), Carrier Strike Group TEN.