Thursday, August 30, 2007

Lieutenant (j.g.) Thomas J. Hudner, USN

The CPO selects had the great honor of being addressed by Medal of Honor recipient Captain Thomas J. Hudner, Jr., USN (ret). I would have killed to crash this event!

Rank and organization: Lieutenant (j.g.) U.S. Navy, pilot in Fighter Squadron 32, attached to U.S.S. Leyte. Place and date: Chosin Reservoir area of Korea, 4 December 1950. Entered service at: Fall River, Mass. Born: 31 August 1924, Fall River, Mass.
For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty as a pilot in Fighter Squadron 32, while attempting to rescue a squadron mate whose plane struck by antiaircraft fire and trailing smoke, was forced down behind enemy lines. Quickly maneuvering to circle the downed pilot and protect him from enemy troops infesting the area, Lt. (j.g.) Hudner risked his life to save the injured flier who was trapped alive in the burning wreckage. Fully aware of the extreme danger in landing on the rough mountainous terrain and the scant hope of escape or survival in subzero temperature, he put his plane down skillfully in a deliberate wheels-up landing in the presence of enemy troops. With his bare hands, he packed the fuselage with snow to keep the flames away from the pilot and struggled to pull him free. Unsuccessful in this, he returned to his crashed aircraft and radioed other airborne planes, requesting that a helicopter be dispatched with an ax and fire extinguisher. He then remained on the spot despite the continuing danger from enemy action and, with the assistance of the rescue pilot, renewed a desperate but unavailing battle against time, cold, and flames. Lt. (j.g.) Hudner's exceptionally valiant action and selfless devotion to a shipmate sustain and enhance the highest traditions of the U.S. Naval Service.
Thomas Hudner's story is fascinating! The pilot he was attempting to rescue the Navy's first African-American aviator, Jesse L. Brown.
Hudner's words in an interview:
"I knew what I had to do," said Hudner in an interview by Frank Geary, for Jax Air News, the Naval Air Station Jacksonville, Fla., base newspaper. "I was not going to leave him down there for the Chinese. Besides, it was 30 degrees below zero on that slope, and he was a fellow aviator. My association with the Marines had rubbed off on me. They don't leave wounded Marines behind." Hudner tightened his harness and, with his wheels up, set his Corsair down onto the snow and rocks some 100 yards from Brown's smoking aircraft. "He was alive, but barely, when I got onto his wing and tried to lift him out of the cockpit. But his right leg was crushed and entangled in metal and instruments. I hurried back and requested a rescue helo, making sure it would bring an ax and a fire extinguisher. When I got back to Brown, I began packing snow around the smoking cowling. "When a two-man Marine helicopter arrived with only its pilot, the ax he carried proved useless in our efforts to hack away the metal entrapping Brown's leg. He was going in and out of consciousness and losing blood. "The helo pilot and I, in our emotion and panic, and with the light of day fading, discussed using a knife to cut off Jesse's entrapped leg. Neither of us really could have done it, and it was obvious Jesse was dying. He was beyond help at that point. The helo pilot said we had to leave. Darkness was setting in and we'd never get out after dark," said Hudner. "We had no choice but to leave him. I was devastated emotionally. In those seconds of our indecision, Jesse died."
It's cliche, but that is grace under fire.


AFSister said...

Great story, Maggie. You can really feel the sadness in Hudner's words about the pilot he was trying to save. So sad.

Barb said...

I've had the honor of shaking Captain Hudner's hand, as he was one of the MOH recipients who was present at the Veteran's Day event last year here in Seattle. Each and every one of the four men I met was self-effacing, and convinced they did nothing special. Amazing, and humbling.