First US Navy African-American Pilot A Hero In Korean War – Part 1

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[His squadron mates] sortied a four-plane section of Corsairs, flew to the crash site, and, in a Valkyrian tribute to a fallen comrade, cremated him in a blaze of napalm. The site is Latitude 40 degrees 36’; Longitude 127 degrees 06’.”

US Navy Ensign Jesse Brown, 24, of Mississippi, the first African-American aviator in the US Navy, had been supporting the breakout of the 1st Marine Division from the Chosin Reservoir in North Korea. The Marines were surrounded by up to five Chinese divisions. Their breakout from this encirclement is one of the greatest epics of courage and sacrifice in the history of the US Marine Corps.

A US Navy Vought F4U-4 Corsair of fighter squadron VF-1B, assigned to Carrier Air Group One (CVBG-1), aboard the aircraft carrier USS Midway (CVB-41). The Midway was on her first deployment from 29 October 1947 to 11 March 1948 to the Mediterranean Sea. VF-1B was redesignated VF-21 on 1 September 1948.

A key to their survival was the air-to-ground support the Marines received from US Navy carrier pilots who were working closely with forward ground controllers. On 4 December 1950, Ensign Brown had been flying on patrol with three other US Navy Corsair pilots hitting targets around Chosin radioed to them by ground controllers. As the pilots turned for home, Brown’s plane was hit by ground fire and he began to lose oil pressure.

Because he was too low to bail-out he crash-landed in a small clearing on a mountainside. Unfortunately, an obstruction hidden by the heavy snow caught his plane and tore the plane into several large pieces. Brown survived but his legs were pinned under the forward hydraulics system.

Brown’s wingman, Lt. (jg) Thomas Hudner, circled the wreck at low altitude while waiting for a rescue helicopter. Fearing the aviation fuel which had spilled from Brown’s stricken plane could ignite, and worried that his wingman could not last long in the brutal cold of the Korean winter, Lt. Hudner himself did a wheels-up belly landing in the snow close to Brown’s aircraft. While Hudner was shaken up in what amounted to a barely controlled crash, his plane had not broken apart and he was able to extract himself and run over to Brown.

[Source: Breakout: The Chosin Reservoir Campaign, Korea, 1950 by Martin Russ. Image courtesy of the Wikipedia.]

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Charles McCain

Charles McCain is a Washington DC based freelance journalist and novelist. He is the author of "An Honorable German," a World War Two naval epic. You can read more of his work on his website:

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