Today I learned about a true American Hero that has all but been forgotten. What defines a hero? The “progression” is a classic story. Born Poor, Faced Adversity, Choose the Hard Road, Excel Beyond the Wildest Dreams of Your Naysayers, Loved by Compatriots, The First, Sacrificial or Tragic Death. All the makings for a great movie.
Jesse LeRoy Brown (13 October 1926 – 4 December 1950) was the first African-American naval aviator in the United States Navy.
He was born the son of a poor sharecropper in Hattiesburg, Mississippi. Brown dreamed of being a pilot. This dream motivated him to do well in school and he did so well in fact that he finished second in class at Eureka High School and was accepted into Ohio State University in 1944. This was a big deal because at the time most African-Americans were regulated to attending black colleges.
Until this time there had never been a black US Navy pilot and there were still plenty of people in the Navy interested in keeping it that way. The ROTC instructor at Ohio State that taught Brown used racial slurs against him and discouraged him from trying to be a pilot.
After attending Navy pre-flight school and flight training, he was designated a Naval Aviator in October 1948. Midshipman Brown was then assigned to Fighter Squadron 32. He received his commission as Ensign in April 1949.
During the Korean War, Ensign Brown flew with the “Swordsmen” of Fighter Squadron Three Two (VF-32) aboard the USS Leyte (CV-32), flying F4U-4 Corsair fighters in support of United Nations forces.
On 4 December 1950, while on a close air support mission near the Chosin Reservoir, Ensign Brown’s plane was hit by enemy fire and crashed. Despite heroic efforts by other aviators, notably LT(jg) Thomas J. Hudner, Jr., he could not be rescued and died in his aircraft. His Corsair and his body were destroyed with a napalm attack in order to keep his remains from falling into Communist / Chinese hands that were in the area. Ensign Jesse L. Brown was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for his Korean War combat service.
Captain (then Lieutenant, junior grade) Thomas J. Hudner, received the Medal of Honor for extraordinary heroism in crash-landing his plane alongside the aircraft of Ensign BROWN and attempting rescue. Ensign BROWN perished in the wreckage of his plane. He was posthumously awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for his exceptional courage, airmanship, and devotion to duty in the face of great danger. He gallantly gave his life for his nation in a manner which reflected the highest credit upon himself and the United States Naval Service. From Colin Osborn, USS Jesse L. Brown
On March 18, 1972 the US Navy christened the USS Jesse L. Brown (DE-1089)
Our nation had for the first time in history names a US Navy ship after a Black American. Daisy Brown and Thomas Hudner were there to remind us all of the brave young pilot for whom it was named.
Thanks to the Naval Historical Center
To read more on the story check out:
The Flight of Jesse Leroy Brown an excellent novel available at Amazon.
Amazon has many good books on Black Aviation History