Flyer who tried to save Navy's first black combat pilot dies
By MARC MUNROE DION | The Herald News, Fall River, Mass. (Tribune News Service) | Published: November 13, 2017
ALL RIVER, Mass. — Thomas Hudner Jr. died Monday in Concord, Massachusetts. He was 93, and a recipient of the Congressional Medal of Honor.
Thomas Hudner grew up on Florence Street, the son of a grocer. After graduating from the Naval Academy at Annapolis, Maryland, Hudner joined the Navy as a lieutenant, (junior grade), and became a Navy pilot. He was attached to the USS Leyte during the Korean War.
It was while supporting United States troops at the Battle of the Chosin Reservoir on Dec. 4. 1950, that Hudner performed the heroic act that would win him the medal. It was the first Medal of Honor awarded to a Navy man in that conflict.
He made a pass, firing at North Korean troops, when he saw his wingman, Ensign Jesse Brown, take a hit and crash on a mountaintop. Brown was the first African-American naval officer to lose his life in any American war, and the first African-American naval pilot.
Hudner made a wheels up landing on 18 inches of snow and tried, without success, to pry Brown from the burning plane.
Charles Ward, a helicopter pilot, joined Hudner and together they tried to free Brown until after Brown died. They took off as darkness fell.
Questoned about his act when he received the Medal of Honor from Pres. Harry S. Truman, Hudner spoke simply, but his words had particular weight in a time of segregation.
"Jesse would have done the same for me," Hudner said according to records of the conversation.
Hudner remained friends with Brown's widow and children for the rest of his life.
He came back often to Fall River, including a visit a few years ago for the dedication of Thomas Hudner Park on Robeson Street, next to the former Highland School he attended as a child.
"I was with him at different events in the city," said Fall River Veteran's Agent Raymond Hague. "He was one of the few from Fall River that received the Medal of Honor. Well deserved.
"He never forgot where he was from," Hague said. "He never forgot Fall River."
Hudner went on to a 30-year naval career. The USS Thomas Hudner, a navy warship, is named after him.
" He hadn't been well," said his brother, Philip Hudner, of Westport, Monday.
"He was quite a role model," Philip Hudner said of his brother. "He was also my godfather. I'm 12 years younger.
"I'm going to miss him," Philip Hudner said.
"Fully aware of the extreme danger in landing on the rough mountainous terrain, and the scant hope of escape or survival in sub-zero temperatures, he put his plane down skilllfully in a deliberate wheels-up landing in the presence of enemy troops," the dispatch announcing his Medal of Honor reads. "With his bare hands, he packed the the fuselage with snow to keep the flames away from the pilot and struggled to pull him free."
©2017 The Herald News, Fall River, Mass.
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