Celebratory cheers echoed throughout Boston as thousands of people gathered to watch the commissioning of the newly built Arleigh Burke class guided missile destroyer, named U.S.S. Thomas Hudner after Medal of Honor recipient Captain Thomas Hudner Jr. ’43.
The ceremony, which took place at 10:00 a.m. on December 1, was traditional, impressive, and historical, according to Jim Donnelly ’73, Vice-Chair of the Andover Military Committee and attendee of the ceremony.
“The most moving part of it was when the commanding officer goes to the podium and tells his crew to bring the ship to life and up to that point, the sailors were all on the pier with us… When the ship’s commanding officer says bring the ship to life, they all started jogging down the pier and they went up the bow so the gang waves into the ship and then they manned [the rails]… That’s just a very moving, emotional thing to see the ship come to life,” said Donnelly.
Massachusetts Congressman Stephen Lynch, Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker, and Boston Mayor Marty Walsh spoke at the event, along with Richard Spencer, Secretary of the Navy; William Moran, Vice Chief of Naval Operations; and Joseph Dunford, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
“They all had very impressive things to say not only about Captain Hudner, but the United States Navy and about the crew, and all of the great things that they were going to do sailing aboard that ship for the nation,” said Donnelly.
Like Donnelly, Jennifer Savino, Director of Alumni Engagement, considered the event historical and remarkable.
“I had military dignitaries, a lot of politicians, a lot of veterans, a lot of currently serving military personnel, and a couple of dozen Andover alumni. They don’t do these [commissions] often, so for them to come here into Boston, where Captain Hudner is from Concord, Mass., [was] extraordinary,” said Savino in an interview with The Phillipian.
According to Savino, Hudner was a very active student at Andover.
“He was a multi-sport athlete, thought very well of both by the faculty and by his classmates. He received an appointment to the Naval Academy where he went through his attendance and education at the Naval Academy, becoming an aviator as he trained to start flying planes,” said Savino.
After graduating from the Naval Academy in 1946, Hudner partnered with Jesse Brown, the first African American aviator in the U.S. Navy. When the two went on a mission to provide ground troops protection, Hudner committed the heroic act that would earn him the Medal of Honor.
Savino said, “Brown’s plane was shot down and so Captain Hudner crashed his plane wheels up… He went in, knowing it was unlikely he was going to be able to then get himself out there, but he went after his own wingman to try to help him get out of the plane. There was too much damage, and he couldn’t help him escape, so he called for backup.”
By the time the helicopter came, Hudner was ordered to leave the crash site, eventually returning to Washington D.C., where President Truman awarded him with the Medal of Honor.
The motto of the U.S.S. Thomas Hudner is “above all others.” Donnelly believes that this motto, along with Hudner’s heroic act, correlates with Andover’s core value, Non Sibi.
“That’s very poignant for [Andover] because our motto was Non Sibi, ‘not for self.’ Captain Hudner said that he would do that thing for any of his subordinates and probably others too. He had a lot of humility and didn’t make a big deal of the fact that he’d been celebrated by being awarded this — the highest honor in the military,” said Donnelly.
Donnelly continued, “When it comes to Captain Hudner, it’s just a reminder that he did serve and it’s important for all of us to serve not necessarily in the military but it’s important for all of us to find ways to serve others. Really, a life of service and that’s really important for all of us to know and to follow in his footsteps.”