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Tony Rossi

Radio Host/Producer

‘No Finer Act of Heroism in Military History’

                In my last column, I began telling the story of Navy pilot Jesse Brown, who was shot down behind enemy lines during the Korean War and crash-landed on the side of a North Korean mountain. The situation appeared hopeless, but Brown’s wingman, Tom Hudner, refused to let his friend die alone. He risked his own life to land his plane next to Brown’s. While 1950, when all this occurred, was still a time of racial division in America, the friendship between Brown, who was black, and Hudner, who was white, modeled what race relations could be.

A lot of that had to do with the Christian faith of both men. Adam Makos, whose best-seller “Devotion” tells their stories, told me, “Jesse would read his Bible before bed. I think Jesse learned from religion that we have to aspire to a higher sense of value. He saw what America could be, and he knew he loved the spirit of this country. I think that faith was his anchor. It gave him that promise that things can be better. [Tom Hudner’s Catholic faith] influenced him more from a social justice perspective. I’m a Catholic, Tom is a Catholic, and we’re taught to love everyone equally…Tom grew up with that principle. His father told him, ‘A man will reveal himself through his character, not his skin color.’ That set up his friendship with Jesse.”

Makos credits military service during wartime with helping to dispel many prejudices in society. He said, “[Everyone fighting] knows that their lives are intertwined, so true value shines through at that time, true character. Hatred and things like racism go right out the window because we have to rely on each other. So I think those men came home from that war, and they were changed forever in their attitudes about other races.”

The character of both Hudner and Brown shone brightly on that fateful day in North Korea. Hudner put out the fire from Brown’s plane with his bare hands. Unfortunately, Brown was so badly injured that he died. But he wasn’t alone at the end. Hudner comforted him the best he could, and made a promise to his friend that it took him until 2013 to fulfill (though you’ll have to read the book to find out what that promise is). The captain of Hudner’s ship said of his actions, “There has been no finer act of unselfish heroism in military history.”

Hudner is still alive today, and Makos cherishes his friendship with this humble hero who embodies the values of The Christophers. The author hopes that readers of “Devotion” gain a sense of the character and heroism both Hudner and Brown exhibited throughout their lives. He concludes:

“I hope readers walk away with inspiration and hope for our future because race relations in America seem rocky right now. But I also think the media plays up the worst of it. We’re taught to fear each other. But if we look back to the friendship of these two men at a time that was darker in American history, at a time when the races didn’t even associate with each other, they can show us the way to the future. I also hope that when we read this book, we discover the Korean War. We don’t know what they were fighting for, why they were fighting, but this beautiful story can open our eyes to these forgotten heroes [so] no generation of American veterans will be forgotten.”

 

For a free copy of the Christopher News Note, APPRECIATING OUR ELDERS, write: The Christophers, 5 Hanover Square, New York, NY 10004; or e-mail: mail@christophers.org