American Combat Airman Hall of Fame to induct new members
Midland Reporter-Telegram, Texas
MIDLAND, Texas — Four American veterans and one combat unit will earn their places in aviation history tonight at the CAF Airpower Museum’s induction banquet.
The American Combat Airman Hall of Fame commemorates military members for their service in the air during any war or conflict. This year’s inductees include two locals — Ret. Maj. Robert J. Bell and Lt. Col. N.G. “Glenn” Brown, both of Odessa — and Capt. Thomas J. Hudner Jr., Ensign Jesse L. Brown (posthumous induction) and the 8th Bomb Squadron of the United States Air Force.
The banquet, which takes place at 7 p.m. at St. Stephen’s Ballroom, requires a ticket that had to be purchased in advance.
Maj. Robert J. Bell
With the United States embroiled in the World War II, Bell decided not to wait until he was old enough to be drafted, and instead, volunteered for service in the fall of 1942. A young man from Peoria, Ill., Bell was soon in primary flight training at the Aviation Cadet Center in San Antonio.
With his graduation from flight school, Bell was assigned to the 344th Fighter Squadron, flying the Curtiss P-40. Bell and his squadron were actively involved in completing the Aleutian campaign against the Japanese. Bell returned to Illinois after the war and served with an Air National Guard unit that was flying F-51s. With the outbreak of the Korean War Bell volunteered to serve overseas once more.
After arriving in Korea, Bell was stationed at Base K47, near Chunchon, just 12 miles from the front lines and was assigned to the 6149th Tactical Control Squadron. The 6147th Tac. Con. Group was a revolutionary unit developing new tactics for air to ground cooperation. They were flying the LT-6 “Mosquito,” the redesignated T-6 advanced trainer from World War II. initially Bell was concerned that the T-6 might not be up to the task, but he soon found that of all the aircraft tested for the role, the LT-6 was the best suited for Forward Air Control missions in Korea. It was speedy and more resilient the liaison-type aircraft that had been used in World War II.
After completing his 20 missions, Bell was moved to the front lines as part of a three-man fire control team. Having received no specialized infantry training they were dropped off with an infantry unit fighting in the Haean-myon Valley, also known as the Punch Bowl, a few miles south of the 38th Parallel. The fighting was intense with trench warfare having broken out all across the frontline. Bell was often forced to direct aircraft strikes using little more than a radio and a periscope.
Many historians acknowledged that the UN forces were able to withstand the withering Chinese assaults because they were supported by precise and prolonged air support and Mosquito operations made that support possible.
After Korea, Bell flew with Strategic Air Command as a tanker pilot and in Vietnam as a helicopter pilot flying harrowing drone recovery missions. Bell retired in 1971, having flown 139 missions in combat over the course of three major conflicts.
Lt. Col. N. G. Brown
Born Odessa in 1947, Brown was interested in aviation from a young age, having grown up watching the TV Series “Whirlybirds.” Upon graduating from Odessa High School, Brown knew he would likely be drafted to fight in Vietnam. Instead, he volunteered which gave him time to evaluate his options. At the time, both the Navy and Air Force were selecting college educated men for their flight programs, and so Brown decided instead to join the Army, which was actively seeking pilots for their rapidly expanding rotary wing flight programs.
Brown reported for duty in Amarillo and was soon off to Fort Polk, La., to undergo Basic Training. Following Basic Training, he was dispatched to Fort Wolters in Texas, where he underwent primary instruction in the Hiller H-23D. Having mastered the simple H-23, Brown moved on to advanced instruction at Fort Rucker where he had his first encounter with the ubiquitous UH-1 “Huey.” After graduating from training, Brown was selected for at "Cobra School" located at Hunter Army Air Field in Georgia.
Although he had traveled to Vietnam as a member of the 17th Aviation Battalion, Brown found out upon arrival that he had been reassigned to the 1st Cavalry as a replacement pilot. After reporting to the 1st Cavalry, Brown flew as a part of an unusual helicopter unit, the Aerial Rocket Artillery, which specialized in using Helicopter Gunships as artillery platforms to support the highly mobile Cavalry units fighting in Vietnam.
Early in his tour, Brown found himself involved in a new, highly-mobile kind of war which required day and night missions at low-altitudes in a wide variety of weather conditions.
During his year-long tour in Vietnam, Brown found himself and his gunship called upon to rescue critically wounded soldiers from a hot landing zone, an action which earned him the Distinguished Flying Cross. Brown also received a Bronze Star for his service during combat in Vietnam. Returning home to the United States in 1969, Brown remained in the Army for five before joining the Army Reserve, where he served for another 33 years.
Capt. Thomas J. Hudner Jr.
Born in Fall River, Mass., on Aug. 31, 1924, Hudner attended the Phillips Academy prior to attending the United States Naval Academy where he initially displayed little interest in aviation and aircraft. Hudner graduated from the Academy in 1946, and relishing in the potential for a new challenge, he enrolled in flight school in 1948 and was transferred to Naval Air Station Pensacola where he received basic instruction in the mechanics of flight. Hudner completed his flight training at Naval Air Station Corpus Christi in 1949. Although he was briefly posted to the Mediterranean, he soon joined Fighter Squadron 32, aboard the USS Leyte. VF-32 was flying the F4U Corsair, which Hudner listed among his favorite aircraft.
On Dec. 4, 1950, Ensign Jesse Brown, with Hudner flying as his wingman, took off as part of a six-ship flight dispatched on a search-and-destroy mission aimed at locating Chinese troop concentrations. Flying as low as 700 feet above the ground in harsh winter conditions, Brown’s Corsair began leaking fuel, most likely from enemy gunfire from the surrounding mountains. As the damaged aircraft became more difficult to control, Brown was forced to crash land in a valley 15 miles behind Chinese lines.
Hudner and the other aircraft circled overhead, and it became apparent that Brown was still alive and trapped in the cockpit. Hudner tried to instruct Brown how to free himself on the radio, but it became obvious that Brown could not free himself. Hudner then intentionally crash landed his aircraft and ran to the aid of his fellow aviator.
With the arrival of a rescue helicopter, Hudner redoubled his efforts to free Brown, this time with the assistance of Lt. Charles Ward. As night fell, the engine fire at the crash site began to intensify. Ward told Hudner that his helicopter was not equipped to fly at night and reluctantly, they were forced to leave Brown behind. Hudner, although badly injured, pleaded with his superiors to be permitted to return to the site of the crash so that Brown's body might be recovered. Naval officers were concerned for the safety of the helicopter crews that might be ambushed by the Chinese, and declined Hudner’s request
Hudner, the first recipient of the Medal of Honor in Korean War, was recognized for his steadfast dedication to his fellow aviators. President Harry S. Truman personally presented the award to Thomas Hudner on April 13, 1951.
Ensign Jesse L. Brown
Brown was born in Hattiesburg, Miss., on Oc. 13, 1926. While he had a keen interest in aircraft from a young age, it was unlikely that he ever had the opportunity to fly as his ancestry was African-American, Chicksaw and Choctaw. In 1937 Brown even wrote a letter to President Franklin D. Roosevelt in which he criticized the injustice of keeping African-Americans out of the Army Air Forces. The White House responded by saying that it appreciated his view point.
Brown flew 20 missions in Korea, leading his aircraft against communications hubs, troop concentrations and military facilities occupied by the North Koreans. On Dec. 4 1950, Brown and his wingman, Lt. Thomas Hudner, took off as part of six aircraft formation headed inland to disrupt Chinese troop formations. One of his fellow pilots noted that Brown had begun to trail fuel. In an effort to retain control of the airplane Brown jettisoned his drop tanks, and rockets, but it was to no avail. He was forced to crash land into a bowl-shaped valley.
Although he survived the landing, Brown was trapped inside his Corsair. As the situation became more desperate, Brown beckoned to Hudner, and imparted to him his last words “Tell Daisy I love Her.”
Brown is believed to have passed away shortly after from his injuries and prolonged exposure to the extreme cold. The Navy decided that it was necessary to napalm the site to prevent the body and the wreckage from the two downed airplanes from falling into enemy hands. Two days later, as pilots recited the Lord's Prayer over the radio; Brown’s body was consumed by flames, still trapped in his aircraft.
Brown was the first African-American Navy officer killed in the war and was Distinguished Flying Cross. Brown was memorialized by his shipmates as “A Christian Soldier, A Gentleman, A Shipmate, and Friend” whose courage and faith shone as a beacon for all to see.
8th Bomb Squadron
The 8th Bomb Squadron has a long and distinguished history. It is one of the longest serving units in the history of the U.S. Air Force. Organized at Kelly Field, in Texas, as the 8th Aero Squadron in 1917, the 8th Bomb Squadron served in the South Pacific during World War II, flying medium bombers; later in combat operations from 1964-72 in Vietnam; and the 8th supported operations in Panama, Granada, Operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom in modern times. However, it is for its remarkable service during the Korean War that the 8th has been selected for induction into the American Combat Airman Hall of Fame.
On June 22, 1950, the 8th Bomb Squadron was undergoing a readiness test as a part of its regularly scheduled operations. A few days later when the North Korean army crossed the 38th parallel and began its invasion of the Republic of Korea, the 8th was one of the few units in a position to render assistance to the fledgling nation.
When the United Nations requested its members go to the aid of the ROK on June 27, President Harry Truman ordered US forces into action. The 8th raided the rail yards at Munsan to deny their use by the North Korean forces. As bombs fell from the 8th’s B-26 “Invaders,” the North Koreans were notified of American involvement in the war. On June 29, aircraft from the 8th claimed another first, launching the first strike into North Korea itself, bombing an airfield near the capital of Pyongyang.
Many of the 8th’s operations throughout 1952 were based on destroying North Korean convoys which were moving exclusively at night in an effort to hide from marauding USAF fighters who owned the daylight hours. While night flying is inherently dangerous it was a task the 8th took to well racking up a staggering kill count.
In 1953 the pace of operations saw another substantial acceleration. With flight crews returning to daylight operations in an effort to pressure the Communists to the negotiating table. In addition to their doubled night raids the crews flew morning missions, with many pilots operating on only a few hours of sleep.
The 8th’s attacks were successful and on July 27, 1953, a final armistice was signed. Although the Korean War has never ended, without the dedication, commitment and willingness to risk all, of the 8th Bomb Squadron, it would likely have lasted longer.