Thomas J. Hudner Jr. was a naval aviator who served in the United States Navy during the Korean War. Born on August 31, 1924, in Fall River, Massachusetts, Hudner attended the United States Naval Academy and graduated with a degree in engineering in 1946. He was commissioned as an ensign in the United States Navy and began his career as a fighter pilot.
The Korean War
The Korean War began on June 25, 1950, when North Korea invaded South Korea. Hudner was serving aboard the USS Leyte, an aircraft carrier that was part of the United Nations forces that were sent to South Korea’s aid. He was a member of Fighter Squadron 32, flying F4U Corsair fighters.
On December 4, 1950, Hudner and his wingman, Ensign Jesse L. Brown, were on a reconnaissance mission when Brown’s plane was hit by enemy fire. Brown, the first African-American naval aviator, crash-landed his damaged plane in the mountains of North Korea. Hudner, seeing that Brown was injured and unable to get out of the plane, decided to crash-land his own plane near Brown’s to try and rescue him.
The Rescue Attempt
Despite the extreme cold and the danger of being caught by enemy forces, Hudner was determined to rescue Brown. He crash-landed his plane in the snow and ran to Brown’s plane, which was on fire, to try and free him. Hudner tried to use a fire extinguisher to put out the flames but was unsuccessful. He then used his knife to try and cut Brown out of the plane, but it was no use.
Hudner stayed with Brown until a rescue helicopter arrived, but unfortunately, Brown had died from his injuries. Hudner was awarded the Medal of Honor for his selfless act of heroism.
The Legacy of Thomas J. Hudner Jr.
Thomas J. Hudner Jr. passed away on November 13, 2017, at the age of 93. He will always be remembered for his bravery and heroism in trying to save his fellow pilot. He was the last surviving member of the group of naval aviators who served during the Korean War.
In honor of his legacy, the United States Navy named a ship after him, the USS Thomas Hudner (DDG-116), which was commissioned in 2018. The ship is an Arleigh Burke-class destroyer and is currently serving in the United States Navy’s fleet.
Thomas J. Hudner Jr. will always be remembered as a hero who put his own life on the line to try and save his fellow pilot. His bravery and selflessness serve as an inspiration to all who hear his story.