The Heroes

Two airmen and extraordinary courage.

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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.

About John Sotham
John Sotham

A former associate editor of Air & Space, John Sotham is a hopelessly nearsighted frequent flyer, with thousands of hours logged in exit rows worldwide. He is a retired U.S. Air Force Reserve colonel and a former crew chief on the F-4D Phantom II and A-10A “Warthog.” He started collecting aviation books when he was eight years old. Any opinions expressed are solely the author’s.

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