Wednesday, July 31st, 2013
More than 60 years after the deadly Korean War battle that took his friend’s life, one US Navy veteran returned to North Korea in an effort to retrieve his fellow soldier’s remains, writes Jane Perlez of the New York Times. Capt. Thomas Hudner Jr. sought to return to the crash site where Ensign Jesse L. Brown, the first black aviator in the US Navy, was shot down.
The state of race relations during the Korean War was fragile,with the military’s desegregation order issued just two years before Hudner and Brown met in 1949. However, the two pilots became fast friends.
In December, 1950, Hudner and Brown were ordered to provide cover for soldiers on the ground during the Battle of Chosin Reservoir. Early into the flight, Brown’s plane was hit with enemy fire, causing the plane to leak white vapor. The only option was to attempt an emergency crash landing, Hudner explains:
I pointed to a clearing on the mountain where Jesse could land. He landed with such force, we were convinced he perished. But we saw that Jesse opened the canopy of the cockpit, and we knew he was alive.
In the freezing cold conditions and the ground covered in snow, Hudner landed his plane next to the crash site behind enemy lines in an attempt to rescue his downed friend. The slick ice made it impossible for Hudner to pull Brown from the wreckage so he called for a rescue helicopter while he consoled Brown. Just after asking Hudner to “tell me wife, Daisy, I love her,” Brown grew weak and passed away before the necessary equipment arrived.
Hudner was awarded the Medal of Honor by President Harry Truman for his rescue efforts, and returned to North Korea this month to try to bring some closure to Brown’s widow. Hudner met twice with three North Korean army officers, but was told that the unpredictable summer weather meant the crash site was inaccessible by road. North Korean officials asked that a representative of the US Joint P.O.W./M.I.A. Accounting Command come on a return trip in September though that program has ceased working with the country since 2005 in protest of North Korea’s nuclear program.
While Hudner’s recent mission was not a direct success, he is optimistic about recovering Brown’s remains in the future. “From what we’ve seen, something positive will come out of getting the remains,” Hudner explained.