By Staff Historian Dr. Dave Winkler
It was an honor back in 2011 to meet Tom Hudner who toured the Cold War Gallery that the Naval Historical Foundation had raised funds for. Ten years earlier the NHF hosted a symposium about the Korean War to commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of the Korean War and the Hudner rescue attempt to save Ens. Jessie Brown was discussed in detail and retired Vice Adm. Gerald Miller stood up in the back of the Navy Memorial theater to state he had been on the bridge of Leyte when radio transmissions of the loss of Brown’s aircraft and Hudner’s subsequent ditching of his aircraft to attempt to extract Brown were received. Miller recalled Leyte’s skipper was furious that Hudner had cost the U.S. Navy an aircraft and opined that he should be court-martialed. However, the task group commander – a rear admiral – countermanded the captain’s recommendation stating “Court-martial – Hell No! I want Hudner put in for a Medal of Honor.” And that lead to the one of the final scenes with the presentation of the medal to Hudner at the White House.
A second observation was a movie scene where Brown was asked to do a photo shoot with Life magazine and being pressed about being a black aviator and his responses were not unlike the female naval aviators I met aboard USS Enterprise following their combat operations in Operation Desert Fox in 1999. Apparently when the press arrived in the immediate aftermath of the airstrikes against Iraq the reporters all asked “We want to interview the women.” Both Brown and these pathbreaking female aviators shared the same conviction that they were merely U.S. naval aviators and did not warrant any special attention over their peers. That being said, they understood they had broken some barriers and were most willing to discuss their experience with this combat historian. Their stories have been archived with the Naval History and Heritage Command.