This week’s Medal of Honor hero was another of the great warriors, who braved the Frozen Chosin, that bleak December in 1950, after the Chinese People Liberation Army joined the North Koreans and trapped our forces as they pressed to secure clear the Korean peninsula of the Communists once and for all. Although surrounded by PLA forces, the Americans and South Koreans were able to break out and make their way back to friendly lines in order and reasonable intact. For the Americans it was like Dunkirk and of the nearly 20,000 casualties, some 7,000 were from the cold weather.
In the midst of all the combat, Hudner saw a fellow fighter pilot go down behind enemy lines–and crashed his own plane next to the crash to save Ensign Jesse L. Brown, the Navy’s first African American pilot. Brown died of his wounds. But, the remarkable lengths Hudner, then just a 26-year-old, took to save Brown’s life raised to bar for all of us.
Thomas J. Hudner Jr.
Rank: Lieutenant (j.g.) Organization: U.S. Navy, pilot in Fighter Squadron 32, attached to U.S.S. Leyte. Place and date: Chosin Reservoir area of Korea, Dec. 4, 1950. Entered service at: Fall River, Mass. Birth: 1924, Fall River, Mass.
Citation: 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, Lieutenant (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. Lieutenant. (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.