Two airmen and extraordinary courage.
- By John Sotham
- Air & Space magazine, July 2000
(Page 2 of 2)
Brown had limited control over his unpowered Corsair, and when it slammed into the ground, it bent 30 degrees at the cockpit. The F4U slid through snow and finally came to rest as smoke began to rise from its engine. Hudner and his fellow pilots circled the wreck. "The plane was so mangled from the landing that we thought he had died in the crash," Hudner says. "We continued to circle around and the conversation on the radio was 'My God, poor Jesse.' I knew that his canopy was open because I went over the checklists with him, but the airplane hit with such force that the canopy slammed shut. Then someone noticed that his canopy was open and he was waving to us."
Seeing that Brown was alive, the flight leader climbed to altitude to give his radio better range, transmitted a Mayday, and asked for a rescue helicopter. "We got an acknowledgment that the helicopter was on the way, but it was at least 15 minutes before it could get there," Hudner says. The delay, Brown's apparent inability to free himself, and the smoke rising from the Corsair made the situation desperate. "I made the decision to try and pull him out of the cockpit and both of us would fly out with the helicopter," Hudner says.
Hudner made a low pass to examine the clearing. He lowered his flaps and tailhook and landed the Corsair on its belly. "I hit a lot harder than I thought I would," Hudner says. "We were at 6,000 feet above sea level so the true airspeed was a lot faster than the indicated airspeed. All that was going through my mind was 'What in the hell am I doing here?' " After his aircraft lurched to a halt, Hudner unstrapped and raced across the snow to Brown's F4U.
Brown was calm and had no visible injuries but his fingers were already partially frostbitten in the frigid air. Hudner saw why Brown hadn't been able to escape-one of his legs was pinned between the instrument panel and the wall of the cockpit. "He was conscious when I first got there, but he said very little," Hudner says. "He was calm and serene."
Hudner realized he couldn't free Brown by himself. After returning to his own Corsair and radioing to the rescue helicopter to bring an ax and fire extinguisher, Hudner ran back to Brown and scooped snow into the F4U's cowling to try to extinguish the fire.
When the rescue helicopter arrived, Hudner got the ax and swung it at the Corsair's fuselage, but it only bounced off. Hudner jammed the fire extinguisher into the engine cowling and discharged it.
Hudner and helicopter pilot Charlie Ward continued to try to free Brown, but the situation was becoming hopeless. With darkness descending and the already frigid temperature dropping near -35 degrees Fahrenheit, the two men could not stay much longer. Ward's Sikorsky HO3S helicopter had no instruments to fly at night, much less through mountainous terrain. Hudner spoke softly to Brown, telling him that they'd have to leave. Brown, whose eyes were closed, did not respond. Hudner didn't know if he was still alive, but little else could be done to help his squadron mate.
On April 13, 1951, President Harry Truman presented Hudner with the Medal of Honor in a simple ceremony that included Daisy Brown, Jesse Brown's widow. Despite their different backgrounds, Hudner and Brown had been drawn together by a simple, but powerful brotherhood-a bond graced by a singular and courageous act.