Medal of Honor Recipient: Navy LT(jg) Tom Hudner

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On this date 68 years ago, December 4, 1950, a young US Navy Lieutenant Junior Grade risked his life to save a fellow naval aviator.

LT(jg) Tom Hudner and ENS Jesse Brown were both providing air support for US Marines on the ground in Korea.  Here is their story, as told by writer and historian Tara Ross:

By Tara Ross

During this week in 1950, Lt. (J.G.) Thomas Hudner crash lands in Korea. He was trying to save the life of Ensign Jesse Brown, the first black aviator in the U.S. Navy.

Not that Tom thought of Jesse that way. When Tom looked at Jesse, he didn’t see “the first black aviator.” He simply saw a friend. And he couldn’t leave his friend to die.

The Korean War was then waging, and Tom and Jesse were both assigned to USS Leyte. Their job was to provide air support for U.S. Marines on the ground. Unfortunately, things took a bad turn on December 4, 1950.

Jesse’s plane had taken a mortal hit. He had to land somewhere—and fast. Tom stayed on Jesse’s wing the whole way down, helping him through check lists. Then he watched his friend’s crash landing with dread, searching for signs of life.

What a relief when he saw Jesse waving from the wreckage! And what confusion when Jesse didn’t get out of the plane. What was wrong? Wisps of smoke began to waft from the plane, providing even more cause for worry.

“When I realized that Jesse’s airplane may burst into flame before [a helicopter] could get there,” Tom later said, “I made a decision to make a wheels-up landing, crash close enough to his airplane and pull him out of the cockpit and wait for the helicopter to come.”

Think about that. Tom had just witnessed a crash landing in terrible conditions. The weather was unbelievably cold, hovering around 0 degrees. Tom had been afraid that Jesse wouldn’t survive—but now he was determined to replicate the same nearly impossible feat.

“The ground seemed to rush at me as I hit,” Tom later reported, “and then I was out of control, snowplowing across the field and hoping I was going to end up somewhere close to Jesse.”

He’d done it. His back hurt so much that he thought he’d broken something, but he got out of his mangled plane, working through deep snow to find his friend.

The situation was serious. Jesse was alive, but his knee was trapped. Flames were sputtering, threatening to engulf the plane. Tom shoved snow on the fire to contain it. He pulled and pulled on Jesse, but to no avail. He wrapped Jesse’s hands and feet to ward off freezing temperatures. Both men waited, together, for a rescue helicopter.

Jesse was calm and composed. “When we were on the ground, he was calming me down,” Tom later told Daisy, Jesse’s widow, “when I should have been the one calming him down.”

Jesse seemed to be slipping in and out of consciousness. Finally, he revived enough to say: “Just tell Daisy how much I love her.”

After 40 long minutes, the helicopter finally arrived. Tom got an ax and swung it at Jesse’s plane repeatedly, but to no avail. Night was falling. The helicopter pilot gave Tom a choice: stay or go?

Tom still wavered. It was suicide to stay overnight in those freezing temperatures. He was prepared to stay if Jesse were alive, but Jesse had been unresponsive for a while.

“I made the decision to go with Charlie,” Tom later said. “I told Jesse we were going back to get equipment . . . I don’t know if he heard me. I don’t know if he was alive at the time.”

Tom felt sure that he would be court-martialed! He wasn’t supposed to crash land, even to save a fellow pilot. What a surprise when he was recommended for the Medal of Honor instead?

“There has been no finer act of unselfish heroism in military history,” the captain of Tom’s aircraft carrier would say.

Captain Thomas Hudner passed away about a year ago, at the age of 93. RIP, sir.

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Editor’s Note:

Tara Ross is a mother, wife, writer, and retired lawyer. She is the author of The Indispensable Electoral College: How the Founders’ Plan Saves Our Country from Mob Rule,Enlightened Democracy: The Case for the Electoral College, co-author of Under God: George Washington and the Question of Church and State (with Joseph C. Smith, Jr.), & We Elect A President: The Story of our Electoral College. She is a constitutionalist, but with a definite libertarian streak! 


 

John S. McCain III: US Senator, US Naval Aviator, and Vietnam Prisoner of War dies at 81

 

 

John S. McCain III, senior Republican Senator from Arizona, passed away today from brain cancer. He was 81 years old.

Just yesterday, his family and he announced he had decided to cease taking his medications for the cancer. He must have known then that the end was near.

Senator McCain came from a line of distinguished naval officers. His father and his grandfather were both Admirals in the US Navy. Senator McCain also served in the Navy, flying A-1 Skyraiders on the aircraft carriers USS INTREPID (CV 11) and USS ENTERPRISE (CV 6). Later, he requested a combat assignment and flew A-4 Skyhawks aboard the USS FORRESTAL (CV 59) and USS ORISKANY (CV 34). It was while serving in FORRESTAL that his aircraft was involved in a shipboard fire that resulted in 134 Sailors dying in the fire. He was transferred to ORISKANY soon afterward. It was on October 26, 1967, while flying combat missions as a Lieutenant Commander from ORISKANY that he was shot down over Vietnam, captured, and held as a Prisoner of War. He was ultimately released from imprisonment in North Vietnam after five and a half years on March 14, 1973. He retired from the United States Navy on April 1, 1981, at the rank of Captain after 22 years of service.

Senator McCain was elected to Congress as a Republican US Representative from Arizona in 1983. Senator McCain advanced to serving in the US Senate in January, 1987, after his election in November, 1986. He frequently referred to himself as a “maverick Republican” during his time in the Senate.

He published his memoir, Faith of My Fathers, in August, 1999. He ran against Texas Governor George W. Bush in the Republican primaries, losing to Governor Bush who would go on to win the presidency in 2000. Senator McCain ran again in 2008, as the Republican standard bearer, but lost the presidency to President Barack Obama.

Senator McCain served six terms as the Republican Senator from Arizona. He last cast a vote in the US Senate in December, 2017, after which, he returned to Arizona to continue treatment for brain cancer.

He and his family announced yesterday that he would no longer undergo cancer treatment. He died today, August 25, 2018, at 4:28 p.m. local time, surrounded by his wife, Cindy (Hensley) McCain, and his family.

Rest In Peace, Shipmate. We have the Watch.

 

 

 

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