Champagne bottles shattered and cheers erupted in Bath, Maine this past weekend as a US Navy Destroyer, now named USS Thomas Hudner (DDG-116), was christened. The ship, which is named after Thomas Hudner ’43, will memorialize Hudner’s valiant and courageous effort to save his wingman Jesse Brown in the Battle of the Chosin Reservoir during the Korean War, according to Charles Dean ’79, Retired Lieutenant Colonel of the US Army .
After graduating from Andover, Hudner became a naval aviator in the “VF-32 Flying Swordsmen” squadron, which flew the F4U Corsair. Another member of this squadron was the first African American Navy pilot, Jesse Brown.
On December 4th, 1950, Hudner and Brown were flying a mission deep into enemy territory during the Battle of the Chosin Reservoir. After they had destroyed their targets and provided cover to ground troops, Brown’s aircraft was shot down by enemy fire.
Hudner could still hear Brown on his radio, and saw that he was still alive. Believing a rescue helicopter would not arrive in time, Hudner crash-landed 300 feet from Brown’s fighter with his wheels up, knowing if he did this he couldn’t get back in the air with his plane. Unfortunately, when Brown’s fighter crashed, the airframe crumpled, leaving Brown stuck within it.
Hudner stayed with Brown until the last moment possible, when the rescue helicopter had to leave before the night set in.
“Captain Hudner requested for Jesse Brown to be his wingman, and Captain Hudner has been quoted as ‘he saw a great pilot, he never actually saw the color of his skin.’ Hudner is a wonderful example of how inclusion and diversity and youth from every quarter of the world is the core of [Andover’s] values,” said Jennifer Savino, Director of Alumni Engagement in an interview with The Phillipian.
It was a joyous day for 90-year-old Hudner, but the christening also brought back grievous memories of fallen comrade Brown. Andover alumni and faculty, family, friends and even Hudner’s fellow crew members flocked to Bath to honor Hudner’s selflessness.
“Close to 50 graduates are currently serving in our Armed Forces around the globe, all living Non Sibi to the fullest. Andover probably has more Medal of Honor recipients of any secondary school in the US, eight total with Captain Tom Hudner ‘43 being our one living graduate recipient of our nation’s highest award for valor in combat,” wrote Dean in an email to The Phillipian.
“Witnessing the christening of the USS Thomas Hudner at the Bath Iron Works in Maine this past Saturday was absolutely moving. Captain Hudner was there to be thanked by his nation for his valorous attempt on 4 [December] 1950 to save his wingman Jesse Brown,” continued Dean.
This massive warship displaces 10,000 tons of water and can reach a top speed over 35 miles per hour.
Savino said, “The future crew of the ship were there, the hundreds if not thousands of workers who had made this ship, this behemoth were there. Many veterans of the Korean war, many active duty naval personnel, as well as Maine’s four members of Congress and some people from the Pentagon, were there.”
For his valiant efforts to try and rescue a comrade, President Harry Truman awarded Hudner the Congressional Medal of Honor, the US Military’s most esteemed award. Hudner’s act of sacrifice also reflects the long-standing core value of the Andover community.
“I think more important than the ship was what he received the medal of honor for, its a really powerful event. It’s a powerful statement of his character and that reflects incredibly well on the school. That’s why at least four times, people mentioned Non Sibi as a principle of his life which his action and career is a great manifestation,” said Michael Hudner, first cousin of Thomas Hudner.
“There were numerous references to Non Sibi by both Navy people and I think some of the politicians because the incident that led to the recognition of Tom for the Medal of Honor was very selfless thing. Not for self. That was kind of interesting to me,” he continued.