I recently attended the commissioning of the USS Thomas Hudner in Boston.
Hudner, the U.S. Navy’s newest guided missile destroyer, is named for the Navy pilot who, in 1950 during the Korean War, flew F4U Corsairs off the deck of the USS Leyte for a mission north of the Chosin Reservoir.
His leader, Ensign Jesse L. Brown, was the Navy’s first African-American fighter pilot. During the flight, Brown’s plane was struck by anti-aircraft fire, forcing a crash landing.
Despite the danger, Hudner aided his troubled squadron mate. In frigid temperatures, he freed Brown from the burning wreckage, but was unable to free him from the cockpit. Reluctantly, Hudner said farewell. Brown whispered to him, “Tell Daisy I love her.”
In 1951, Hudner received the Medal of Honor for his devotion to a fellow shipmate.
Former Lynnfield resident and veteran U.S. Navy pilot William Wilkinson also served with Hudner and Brown. Wilkinson flew combat missions during the Korean War flying the F-4U Corsair aboard the USS Leyte.
On Memorial Day, I accepted “Off to Chosin,” a painting depicting a Navy Corsair flying off the Leyte to provide support for stranded Marines during the Korean War. Lynnfield resident and close Wilkinson friend, William Munroe, received the painting from Wilkie, who gave it to the town. It is on display in the Town Clerk’s office.
Ensign Brown was posthumously awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for his courage. A Navy frigate was also named for him.
In 2013, at 89, Hudner returned to North Korea, in the hope of locating Brown’s remains, but was unable to reach the crash site.
Hudner attended the christening ceremony of his namesake ship at Bath Iron Works in Maine last year. He died later that year at 93.
Lynnfield Veterans Services Officer