Thomas J. Hudner passes

| November 14, 2017 | 17 Comments

The sad news has reached us that Thomas J Hudner, Jr has passed at the age of 93. He was awarded the Medal of honor during the Korean War when he tried to rescue a fellow pilot, Ensign Jesse L. Brown, when Brown’s aircraft succumbed to enemy fire while they were covering the withdrawal of troops from the Chosin Reservoir. Hudner’s 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.

Ensign Brown was the first Black naval aviator and fills in some of the details left out of the citation;

On seeing that Brown was alive after his crash landing, Hudner tightened his harness, jettisoned all excess weight, and landed, wheels up, within 100 yards of the wreck in two feet of snow. He found Brown conscious and calm, bareheaded, his fingers frozen, unable to reach his fallen gloves and helmet.

“We’ve got to figure out how to get out of here,” Brown told him.

Hudner removed the woolen watch cap he had carried in his flight suit, placed it over Brown’s head and wrapped Brown’s hands in an extra scarf. Then he looked into the cockpit. The ensign’s right knee was crushed and jammed between the fuselage and the control panel.

With only one hand available — he needed the other to hold on to the plane — Hudner could not extricate him. He radioed the incoming helicopter to bring an ax and a fire extinguisher. The trapped man, he later recalled, “was very stoic.”

“He was motionless and slowly dying,” he said.

Hudner packed snow around the smoking canopy to keep any flames away. But the hatchet the helicopter pilot brought just bounced off the unyielding metal, and amputation was not an option: The rescuers could not get deep enough inside the cockpit.

“If anything happens, tell Daisy I love her,” Brown told Hudner, referring to his wife. With nightfall rapidly approaching, the helicopter had to leave. Hudner promised Brown that he would return soon with better equipment.

“It was a baldfaced lie,” he said later; he knew he could never get back in time. By the time Hudner had left him, in fact, Brown might have already died.

Brown’s squadron mates later returned to the site, drenched the body with napalm and set it ablaze to prevent it from being desecrated.

Brown posthumously received a Distinguished Flying Cross.

The New York Times calls the attempted rescue a “civil rights milestone” since the whole thing played out just two years after Truman desegregated the military.

Category: We Remember

Comments (17)

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  1. Combat Historian says:

    What was the plane Hudner was flying that day? I assume it was a Skyraider?


  2. HMCS(FMF) ret says:

    RIP Thomas J. Hudner – thank you for your service to our country. Condolences to the Hudner family.

    “Where do we get such men…”

  3. Mick says:

    CAPT Hudner was a true hero, and very humble. If you ever get a chance to see video of him being interviewed, I highly recommend it.

    Fair winds and following seas, CAPT Hudner.

  4. Mick says:

    From the article linked above:


    In 1973, Hudner was present in Boston Navy Yard when the destroyer escort Jesse L. Brown was commissioned. In 2013, Brown’s daughter and granddaughter were on hand at the Maine Maritime Museum in Bath for a ceremony commemorating the beginning of construction of the guided-missile destroyer Thomas J. Hudner. The ship is scheduled to be commissioned in 2018.’

  5. Hondo says:

    RIP, CAPT Hudner.

    For those who’ve not seen it, Doug Sterner has a wonderful article concerning CAPT Hudner and the acts for which he was awarded the MoH on his old “Home of Heroes” website. The title of the article is, “No Man Should Die Alone!” It’s worth the time to read.

    Should you choose to follow the link, you might want to have a tissue or two handy.

  6. Sparks says:

    Rest in peace Sir. You did your best for your comrade. That’s all anyone can ask.

  7. Atkron says:

    Fair Winds and Following Seas to both Men.

  8. Atkron says:

    I have to wonder if both Mr. Brown met the Captain at the gates of heaven.

  9. Mason says:

    God damn, that’s bravery right there! Unbelievable. Too bad for ENS Brown, but he died knowing his wingman was willing to die with him. You can’t find much more brotherhood than that. Not like the situation on the ground at Chosin was welcoming territory.

    Rest easy CAPT Hudner, you earned it!

  10. Sapper3307 says:

    “do it for me, I would do it for you”
    Flight of the Intruder.

  11. USMC Steve says:

    I wonder if the remains of those two aircraft and Ens Brown are still sitting up in those mountains?

  12. JabberD says:

    There are two books out detailing the story of Jesse Brown and Thomas Hudner. One is “The Flight of Jesse Leroy Brown” by Theodore Taylor and the second, more recent, is “Devotion: An Epic Story of Heroism, Friendship, and Sacrifice” by Adam Makos.

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