David Freund, Chief Leadership Officer
On December 4, 1950, Fighter Squadron 32 took off from the USS Leyte on an armed reconnaissance mission in support of the UN troops at the Chosin Reservoir deep inside North Korea. The 30,000 UN troops were surrounded by 120,000 Chinese troops. Supplies were limited and nighttime temperatures dipped to 30 degrees below zero. The Battle of Chosin Reservoir started on November 27 and continued until December 13, 1950 when the last of the troops were able to fight their way back to the coast and be transported onto U.S. Navy ships.
During the flight, Navy officer Jesse L. Brown’s F4U Corsair was hit in the oil tank by Chinese anti-aircraft fire. Losing oil, and with his engine slowly heating up, Brown needed to find a spot in the mountains to crash land his plane. Brown was able to crash his plane in a small meadow covered in about a foot of snow. His wingman, Lieutenant Thomas Hudner, followed Jesse and saw his canopy slide open, but Jesse didn’t climb out of his plane. Hudner saw smoke coming out from under the engine cowling. Fearing that his friend would burn to death in the plane, Hudner crash landed his F4U Corsair near Brown. As he approached Brown’s Corsair, he realized the nose of the plane was bent at about 30 degrees, pinning Brown in his seat. With nightfall nearing, the two pilots waited for a rescue helicopter on an icy mountain side deep behind enemy lines. Brown 24, and Hudner 26, were risking their lives, lives filled with hopes and dreams, for people they would never meet.
When the recuse helicopter arrived, they were unable to free Brown from the wreckage. With darkness settling in and facing almost certain death from exposure to such low temperatures, Hudner was forced to leave his friend. As he hurried to the helicopter, he promised Brown that he would return.
4,385 U.S. Marines, 3,163 U.S. Army, 2,812 South Koreans attached to the U.S. forces, and 78 British Royal Marines were lost in this 17-day battle. Among them was the first African-American naval aviator, Jesse Leroy Brown.
I don’t share this story to glorify war, but rather to honor the men, women, and families who have sacrificed so much so that we can live our lives in peace and freedom. Let’s remember all of them this Veterans day. When you see a veteran, thank them for the price they and their families paid. Freedom isn’t free.
If you would like to hear more about the amazing story of Jesse Brown and Tom Hudner, check out Episode 125 of The Next Page podcast as Marisa and I take a look into the lives of these heroes. And by the way, Hudner kept his promise to Brown—more on that in the podcast episode.