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Tony Rossi

Radio Host/Producer

An Epic Story of Heroism, Friendship and Sacrifice

                What kind of man intentionally crashes his airplane behind enemy lines during wartime to save a friend?

That’s the question that New York Times best-selling author Adam Makos set out to answer in his book “Devotion,” about the bond between two Navy pilots during the Korean War: Tom Hudner, a white New Englander from the country-club scene, and Jesse Brown, an African American sharecropper’s son from Mississippi.

As Makos recalled during a “Christopher Closeup” interview with me, “On December 4th, 1950, the Korean War had turned very dire. We had 10,000 U.S. Marines surrounded by 100,000 Chinese communist troops at a place called the Chosin Reservoir, way up in northern North Korea. Men like Tom and Jesse would fly [from their nearby naval carrier ships] to give air support to the Marines. They would drop bombs and strafe, and that’s when Jesse Brown was shot down. He was hit by a bullet from the ground, and he crash-landed in the only place he could—on the side of a North Korean mountain.”

Brown’s wingman, Tom Hudner, witnessed what happened, and then saw smoke rising from the nose of Jesse’s plane, which lay 13 miles behind enemy lines. Hudner said, “I’m going in.”

Makos continued, “Tom knew his friend was about to die, and he was willing to give his own life to try to change that. With his wheels up, Tom circled around and came to a skidding, screeching stop alongside of Jesse’s plane. Tom got out into that deep snow and set out to try to save his friend’s life. It had never happened before; it has never happened since.”

Makos wasn’t solely interested in the incident itself, but what made these two men who they were since they came from such different backgrounds. He knew it had to be special because the seed of this book was planted when the author attended a Veterans History Conference in Washington, D.C. a few years ago, and saw Hudner there wearing his Medal of Honor, “the highest award in the U.S. military.”

Hudner, he learned, could have lived a comfortable life following in the footsteps of his father who had opened a chain of grocery stores. But he gave it up to join the Navy because his country was in the midst of World War II, and he wanted to help.

Jesse Brown, meanwhile, had grown up dirt poor in Mississippi. As a child, he fell in love with the idea of being a Navy pilot, even though that was a nearly impossible dream for African Americans at that time.

Racism was a major challenge that Jesse had to face, so he prepared himself while growing up. Makos explained, “Jesse’s mother was a missionary and a teacher, his father was a deacon at their local church. They both taught him to let words roll off his back. So when someone called him a slur, when they would say the most hateful thing, his mother would say, ‘You can let it get to you, Jesse—or you don’t have to give the words any power, and you can just let them go.’ So Jesse would stand in front of a mirror at night and he would curse himself in the mirror. And he taught himself to be hardened to it and to just let it go.”

Both Brown’s and Hudner’s Christian faith also plays into the story, and I’ll share those details and more in my next column.


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