In a gripping story of war and courage, Ensign Jesse L. Brown, the U.S. Navy’s first black pilot, died when his plane’s fuel line took a bullet. It was December 4, 1950. His partner, a white pilot named Thomas Hudner, crash-landed his own plane to try and save his wingman. His efforts were lost. Brown told his friend to deliver a message of love to his wife Daisy and he perished with his Corsair plane in North Korea.
Jesse Leroy Brown was born in Hattiesburg, MS. At the age of six when he attended his first air show, Brown knew he wanted to be a pilot. After attending Naval training in Ohio State University, Brown’s photo was featured in the 1948 issue of Life Magazine as the first black pilot in the U.S. Navy. While Brown had experienced racial prejudice during training, he was accepted among most of his fellow officers. While attending flight school, Brown married his love, Daisy, which was forbidden for the pilots during training. They kept their marriage a secret.
After being called to the Korean war, Brown’s plane was sent to protect the 8,000 marines who were trapped near the Yalu River. During the mission, Brown’s fuel line was hit and he was forced to crash into the side of a snow-covered mountain. He was trapped in the cockpit. Brown died while Hudner tried to comfort him and keep him warm with a hat and gloves.
Thomas Hudner was forbidden to return to the site where Brown’s plane went down. The other officers made the decision to hit the crash site with Napalm bombs so the Chinese wouldn’t find Brown’s aircraft. As they dropped bombs over the area, the Lord’s Prayer was said over the radio. Now, 60 years later, Hudner will return to North Korea to help bring his friend’s remains home.
As a result of his heroism, Navy officer Thomas Hudner was awarded a Medal of Honor by President Harry S. Truman. Then On March 18, 1972, the U.S. Navy christened the USS Jesse L. Brown. It was the first Naval Ship named after an African American.