Men of the 187th US Regimental Combat Team prepare to take a ridge position somewhere in Korea in May 1951.

Men of the 187th US Regimental Combat Team prepare to take a ridge position somewhere in Korea in May 1951.

The Korean War began 65 years ago, lasted three years, and claimed nearly 40,000 American lives. Before the war began, U.S. armed forces had been integrated by President Truman. But until African-American pilot Jesse Brown came along, Navy aviators were entirely white. En route to serve in Korea, Brown met Lieutenant Tom Hudner, a white, Naval Academy graduate who would become his wingman and good friend. The two men flew combat missions supporting Marines on the ground until Jesse was shot down behind enemy lines and Tom had to make the decision of a lifetime. Diane and guest author Adam Makos discuss the true story of an unlikely friendship during the Korean War that crossed the racial divide.

Guests

  • Adam Makos Journalist and author of the New York Times bestseller, "A Higher Call: An Incredible True Story of Combat and Chivalry in the War-Torn Skies of World War II"

Read An Excerpt

Excerpted from DEVOTION by Adam Makos Copyright © 2015 by Adam Makos. Excerpted by permission of Ballantine Books, an imprint of Random House, a division of Penguin Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

Devotion: An Epic Story of Heroism, Friendship, and Sacrifice

Transcript

  • 11:06:53

    MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. Navy Lieutenant Tom Hudner grew up in well-to-do New England family that belonged to the local country club. Ensign Jesse Brown was the son of a poor Mississippi sharecropper in the deep South. He went on to become the Navy's first African-American pilot. The two aviators met aboard a U.S. carrier shop bound for the Korean War. In a new book, author Adam Makos tells the true story of this friendship between two men from different worlds and the tragedy that forever bound them together.

  • 11:07:36

    MS. DIANE REHMThe book is titled, "Devotion: An Epic Story Of Heroism, Friendship and Sacrifice." Adam Makos joins me. You are welcome, as always, to be part of the program. Give us a call, 800-433-8850. Send your email to drshow@wamu.org. Follow us on Facebook or send us a tweet. And Adam Makos, it's good to see you again.

  • 11:08:08

    MR. ADAM MAKOSGreat to see you again, Diane.

  • 11:08:09

    REHMThank you. You know, with so many people today thinking about the wars in Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq, I mean, why go back to Korea?

  • 11:08:29

    MAKOSWell, we, as Americans, should never have a forgotten war and that's what we called the Korean War. 65 years ago, it says, ambiguous to us as anything. All we have to tell us about Korea is the TV show "M.A.S.H." Now, nothing against "M.A.S.H.," but these men and the women who lived this war and who fought it, they deserve a better legacy than that.

  • 11:08:52

    REHMAnd how did you come across the story of Jesse Brown and Tom Hudner?

  • 11:09:01

    MAKOSWell, it was a legendary story in military circles. Everyone knows these names. I was at a history conference. I was a young magazine writer looking for a story and there was Tom Hudner. We were leaving the conference. He was sitting in a hotel lobby reading a newspaper and I had heard of him. And I was hesitant because I knew nothing about the Korean War. But I mustered my courage, walked over and I said, Sir, I would love to interview your and tell you story.

  • 11:09:30

    MAKOSAnd when he handed me that business card that day, he handed me the keys to one of the most inspirational true stories of all.

  • 11:09:38

    REHMAnd you went on to interview him and to talk to how many other people?

  • 11:09:46

    MAKOSUpwards of 50 veterans were interviewed for this book. And we forget, they were all members of the greatest generation. We always think of the greatest generation as being the World War II generation. We forget the Korean War was fought by the same people. The greatest generation fought two wars.

  • 11:10:05

    REHMSo how did Jesse and Tom really come together? How did they connect? They were so different in their backgrounds, in their upbringing and, of course, racially. President Truman had integrated the races in the armed forces, but the Navy was the last to allow African-Americans to fly planes.

  • 11:10:39

    MAKOSIt was a very hard nut to crack, as they said. The army allowed the Tuskegee Airmen to fly back in the '40s whereas the Navy -- it was more or less the instructors. They would just wash out any black cadet trying to become a naval aviator. And Jesse Brown was the first to break that barrier. And it really comes back to their youth, the youth of a man like Jesse, a man like Tom, they came from very different worlds. Tom was from a more privileged lifestyle in New England.

  • 11:11:11

    MAKOSHis family ran a grocery store. He was destined for Harvard to follow in his father's footsteps.

  • 11:11:18

    REHMInstead...

  • 11:11:20

    MAKOSInstead, he decided to join the Navy and serve his country. So it's incredible in today's world of 1 percenters and everything. Tom gave up his silver spoon. He gave up that lifestyle to risk his life flying fighter planes.

  • 11:11:35

    REHMHe did go to the Naval Academy and that was something he was almost embarrassed about as he and Jesse met because Jesse's background was so different from his. Read for us, if you would, from that early example of the kind of schooling experience that Jesse actually had.

  • 11:12:05

    MAKOSI will. And to preface this story, Jesse and his brothers, when he was 13, they were working the fields as the sons of a sharecropper, 4:30 in the morning, till evening. And at the end of the day, their reward was a dip in a dirty pond and they would swim there and they'd walk home. And that's when a school bus went by one day and the boys spit on Jesse and his brothers. They had been insulted before, they had had every word thrown at them in the deep South. They would get the evil eye when they walked into a store, but never had they been spit upon.

  • 11:12:41

    MAKOSAnd so this is set several days later so it begins that way. "Several days later, after the farming was done, Jesse, Fletcher and Lura walked on the dirt road heading home to their chores.

  • 11:12:55

    REHMLura is his brother.

  • 11:12:57

    MAKOSYes. Fletcher and Lura and Jesse's little brothers. Lura's 11. Fletcher is 8. These are just kids. "Dark storm clouds filled the horizon, a brewing summer storm. Behind them came the distinctive sounds of a gear shifting and an engine rattling like a laboring air conditioner. Jesse pulled Fletcher off the road into a nearby field and Lura followed. Jesse looked his brothers in the eyes. 'If I say to run, then you run, get it?' The younger boys nodded rapidly. Jesse scoured the ground until he picked a dried cornstalk about four feet long. He shook off the dirt and ran back to the roadside, the stalk in hand.

  • 11:13:38

    MAKOSAs the school bus neared, the windows slip back and he same angry faces emerged. Jesse stood to the side of the bus' path and choked up on the cornstalk like a bat. As the bus passed, he swung the cornstalk and smacked the first face that jutted from the windows. They angry face squealed and reeled back inside. The boy's friend yelled at the bus driver to stop. The bus made a grinding sound and it stopped. Jesse lowered the cornstalk, but kept it in his hands. The boys in the back of the bus swore until a male voice barked, 'Shut up.'

  • 11:14:13

    MAKOSThe bus door banged open. A white man in suspenders stepped out, spit tobacco juice and strode toward Jesse. The bus driver was older, yet he had broad shoulders and big fists. Lura shielded Fletcher and glanced nervously up at Jesse waiting for the order to run. Jesse remained still, his eyes fixed on the approaching driver. 'What in the hell just happened here,' the driver asked, his eyebrows narrowing. 'Sir,' Jesse said, 'Every day when you pass us, those boys stick their heads out and they spit on us.'

  • 11:14:44

    MAKOSThe drivers eyebrows lifted. He turned and stared at the bus. The boys were leaning halfway out the windows like dogs with dangling tongues. 'Come on. Let him have it,' yelled the crying boy. The driver turned and studied Jesse from head to toe, taking in the sight of the boy's bare feet and patched overalls. The driver then glances to Fletcher and Lura, who were cowering in the nearby field and looking up with frightened eyes. 'Well, that won't happen anymore,' the driver said. The man turned and strode back to his bus.

  • 11:15:16

    MAKOSThe doors slammed harder than before. The boys' heads disappeared from the windows and through the open windows of the bus, Jesse and his brothers heard the driver chewing out the kids. Soon enough, the bus started and drove off with a grind and a roar. When the bus was out of sight, Jesse and his brothers resumed walking home. The storm clouds still brewed in the distance, but things felt different. After a few silent paces, Fletcher looked over at Jesse, his eyebrows were arched in astonishment.

  • 11:15:44

    MAKOSJesse smiled, shrugged and raised his hands, palms out. His younger brothers broke out in laughter."

  • 11:15:50

    REHMAdam Makos reading from his new book titled "Devotion: An Epic Story Of Heroism, Friendship and Sacrifice. How did Jesse Brown make it into that Naval pilot's position?

  • 11:16:12

    MAKOSIt was amazing, Diane Rehm, because he came from a house that had a leaky roof. He came from a house that had no electricity, no running water. His parents were -- his dad was a sharecropper. His mom was a school teacher. It was astonishing how he made it. One of the ways was a lesson his mother gave him. She told him, "Words can have all the power in the world or none at all. The choice is yours." And so Jesse would face a mirror after hours and he would insult himself. He would call himself every dirty name in the book, every racial slur he could think of.

  • 11:16:52

    MAKOSAnd it hardened him so that when he encountered future abuse, he could take it. And so he climbed the ladder and through his personality, through his character and through his self restraint, he was able to make it where every other black cadet had failed.

  • 11:17:11

    REHMEvery other black cadet had failed and he was ultimately chosen to be the first African-American pilot for the Navy.

  • 11:17:25

    MAKOSExactly.

  • 11:17:26

    REHMBrilliant, extraordinary story even just up to there. We're going to take a short break here and when we come back, your questions, comments. Adam Makos' new book is titled "Devotion: And Epic Story Of Heroism, Friendship and Sacrifice. Stay with us.

  • 11:20:02

    REHMWelcome back. My guest is Adam Makos. He's the New York Times bestselling author of "A Higher Call." And that was a story about World War II. He has now moved on to a story about Korea. That war and two people crossing the racial divide, who are the subject of his new book titled, "Devotion." We have a tweet from Jim, who says, does your guest thing the reason the Korean War was forgotten is because it's technically not over and no clear winner?

  • 11:20:50

    MAKOSI think, Diane, it's the no clear winner part. Americans are not used to taking second best. We don't play for a tie, we play for a win. And when that war ended in 1953 as a stalemate at the 38th parallel, the same place where it had begun, the same borders, we call that a tie.

  • 11:21:11

    REHMAnd then Vietnam.

  • 11:21:14

    MAKOSMm-hmm. The same thing. For some reason, though, even Vietnam has been remembered a little better in popular culture. We haven't had a Korean War movie since "Pork Chop Hill" in 1959 and that was starring Gregory Peck.

  • 11:21:28

    REHMI want to know how Jesse Brown managed to get through the educational process that allowed him to become a Naval pilot.

  • 11:21:41

    MAKOSWell, as a young man, he was a hard, hard worker. On the weekends, he would leave the town where he was living with his aunt and he would come home to farm the fields with his family. Then he would walk back to school for Monday morning. He was top three in his class. He played football, he ran track, and at nights he worked at a place called the Homes Club. It was a bar for soldiers at a nearby base. And he would carry trays full of beer bottles. And he would have dodge the racial slurs and so forth. But at the same time, an amazing thing happened.

  • 11:22:13

    MAKOSOn his last day of work, the owner of this bar passed the hat around. And he said, hey, boys, we're raising money for Jesse Brown to go off to college. He's been accepted to Ohio State and he's going to need a lot of help to get there. And those soldiers -- and these are white soldiers -- they filled the hat with so much money he was able to pay for his first year's tuition through their generosity.

  • 11:22:36

    REHMWow. And from there on?

  • 11:22:39

    MAKOSFrom there on, he worked hard during school. He would unload trains at night. He served as a janitor at times. And he was studying during the day to be an architectural engineer. So that was his dream. He wanted to build the Empire State Building of the South. That was his -- he said, New York has skyscrapers, Chicago has skyscrapers, I want the South to have one. So that was his long-term dream, until he saw that poster that said, do you have what it takes to be a naval aviator?

  • 11:23:08

    MAKOSNow he had always loved flight. He never thought it possible that he could become a pilot until he saw that sign. And he said, thank God for Ohio State, because he would have never seen that recruiting poster at any of the black colleges. It was at a white college, because they wanted white cadets. But Jesse Brown said, I have what it takes.

  • 11:23:27

    REHMBut up until then, blacks had been turned down for Naval aviation.

  • 11:23:34

    MAKOSThey had been washed out. And an instructor could do that. It was simply a boys' club. They would make up a reason and just wash the pilot out. Jesse got lucky in flight training. He was a farm boy from Mississippi and his flight instructor -- a man named Roland Christensen, World War II veteran -- was a farm boy from the Midwest. And he said, Jesse, I'm going to judge you by how you fly and that's it.

  • 11:23:58

    REHMAnd he did very well, I gather.

  • 11:24:01

    MAKOSHe was a sharp young man in all ways and he was a great pilot. Everyone who flew with him was proud to fly with him and they felt safer with Jesse on their wing.

  • 11:24:10

    REHMIsn't that interesting? And then he and Tom Hudner meet on this ship heading for Korea.

  • 11:24:23

    MAKOSTheir first meeting was very interesting. Everyone thinks that, you know, they became best buddies overnight. What happened, Tom -- they were suiting up to fly and Jesse came in, he gave an awkward wave and he said, hi, I guess we'll be flying together today. And Tom said, I'm looking forward to it. And he stood up and Tom put out his hand to shake Jesse's hand. And Jesse looked down at Tom's hand, dumbstruck for a minute, and then finally he shook his hand. Well, later, Jesse explained to him. He said, Tom, back in flight training, a lot of times I'd stick out my hand to someone else and they'd keep theirs at their side.

  • 11:24:59

    REHMSo they got into the plane together. They began to converse. They began to develop a relationship.

  • 11:25:11

    MAKOSThey became good friends because they were both gentlemen. They were both patriots. And at first, I never saw that. And then a reader said, don't you realize these men, how patriotic they are? I didn't write that they sang the national anthem. I didn't say that they always saluted "The Star Spangled Banner." They were patriotic through their actions. Tom gave up Harvard to fly for his country and Jesse wanted to defend a nation that wouldn't serve him in a bar. That's patriotism.

  • 11:25:43

    REHMWhen did Jesse decide to get married?

  • 11:25:47

    MAKOSHe got married during his flight training and he married his high school sweetheart, Daisy Pearl Thorne. And Daisy, she became Daisy Brown, she was a young lady who was, I always say, like a princess. She loved reading Emily Post. She loved "Pride and Prejudice." She was a little bit of a bookworm. She came from very tough circumstances, just like Jesse. Her mother was a widow at age 30. She had four brothers and sisters and Daisy cared for them while her mother went off to clean houses.

  • 11:26:19

    MAKOSSo she came from so little and here she's taken to the Northeast with Jesse, when he's assigned to Rhode Island. She's never been out of the state. She doesn't know how to drive. Suddenly she's a military wife and she's watching her husband go off to sea to land on carriers. And landing on a carrier was the most dangerous job in the world.

  • 11:26:40

    REHMHmm.

  • 11:26:41

    MAKOSAnd it just tore her up. So we see Daisy at the beginning, she used to call herself a meek little lamb and that she was.

  • 11:26:48

    REHMAnd developed into?

  • 11:26:51

    MAKOSA fighter pilot just like Jesse. In the end of her life, just to flash forward, Daisy loved -- her hobby was racing on the autobahn. She bought a little red Sunbeam convertible. She would do her hair. She would wear a scarf like Grace Kelly, put the top down and race on the autobahn. So the Daisy Brown, after she met Jesse, after he changed her life, was a far different person.

  • 11:27:17

    REHMTalk about the kinds of planes that these two men were flying.

  • 11:27:23

    MAKOSThey were flying World War II fighters, essentially -- planes built during World War II called the F4U Corsair, a single-seat fighter. And it was so dangerous to land on a carrier. These days, we have all kinds of technological advancements to help a pilot. Back then, the nose of this plane was so long that they would be blind coming in to the carrier. And what they would do is they would look at a little man on the corner of the deck and he would have paddles and he'd be waving for them to go left, go right, speed up, you're too slow. And they had to fly in on blind trust. These were some of the best pilots the world has ever seen.

  • 11:28:04

    REHMHow many were on that carrier?

  • 11:28:06

    MAKOSOn that carrier were about four or five squadrons. So each squadron had about 20 men. So you're talking about, about 100 pilots on an aircraft carrier. And a carrier has around 3,000 men on it. So I always used to say, they were like the knights of the castle.

  • 11:28:23

    REHMHmm.

  • 11:28:23

    MAKOSThey were the elite and everyone looked up to them.

  • 11:28:28

    REHMI wonder, did everyone receive Jesse in the same way that Tom Hudner did?

  • 11:28:37

    MAKOSThere was an amazing phenomenon that happened on this carrier. There's something about it, when we Americans work together, when we fight together, even when we play football together. There's not racism on a football field. There's not racism in the trenches, when people are fighting for their lives. We band together. And so it was on this ship. They were like a Navy band of brothers. And a reporter asked Jesse, has there been racism you've been subject to? Now, this is 1950. He gave this answer, he said, not one instance.

  • 11:29:07

    REHMHmm.

  • 11:29:08

    MAKOSAnd the reporter later said, the key to Jesse's popularity was his assumption that no race problem existed and, as a result, none did.

  • 11:29:19

    REHMNone.

  • 11:29:20

    MAKOSThat was written in Ebony Magazine, 1951.

  • 11:29:24

    REHMAnd that's really extraordinary, perhaps testament to his personality, the manner in which he got along with people, but also the reality of war. That, as you say, all these men were together for one purpose. Extraordinary.

  • 11:29:48

    MAKOSIt is. And I think they felt the severity of the Korean War. They knew they were fighting for the survival of the South Korean people. And they felt they were defending their families back home because communism was spreading. It had spread throughout Europe. And then the communists turned their eyes to Asia and they took China. And the North Koreans invaded South Korea. And Japan was next. These men felt that they were fighting for the survival of the world.

  • 11:30:14

    REHMJesse was very, very kind and polite to the people onboard the ship who were serving the men who were fighting, until one day, when it was Jesse's birthday. Talk about what happened.

  • 11:30:39

    MAKOSIt was an amazing moment. Now, the stewards on an aircraft carrier were African American. They were the ones who cleaned the rooms. They were the ones who made the food and served the dinners. And the pilots and officers ate at China. They ate on white tablecloths. The Navy was very fancy. And in flight training, Jesse had had this phenomenon happen where the stewards would bring the food to him and, before he could even take the food off the plate, they would move it away. And they would serve the white pilots instead. They felt Jesse was an upstart, trying to break into a world where he didn't belong. So he had this scar that he carried with him.

  • 11:31:14

    MAKOSWell, on his birthday, on the ship, the stewards starting acting strange again. They wouldn't make eye contact with him. They were snickering. And Jesse said, what did I do now? Well, soon enough, they start lining up on the back wall and a cook comes through the swinging door carrying a birthday cake with lit candles and they put it down in front of him. And all the officers and the stewards sang "Happy Birthday" to him. And then the stewards -- the chief steward brought out a present -- a silver Rolex. They had bought it -- they had pooled their money and they bought it in the ship's store. And they did it because they loved him.

  • 11:31:52

    MAKOSThey called him Jesse L., that was their nickname for him. And they loved Jesse because, even in his stateroom aboard the ship, he would make his own bed, he would clean his own desk, he would do their jobs for them. And when he was passing through the kitchen or the dining hall and he saw them there polishing the silverware, Jesse Brown, even in his flight gear, would stop an he'd walk over and he'd greet them and he'd wish them a good day. And those men never forgot him. They loved him.

  • 11:32:22

    REHMSo, at some point, we come to a place in Jesse's life where they're taking off together. The two are flying their first battle together. What happens?

  • 11:32:44

    MAKOSWell, if we're talking -- would you like me to talk about the incident itself, the climactic moment?

  • 11:32:49

    REHMNot yet.

  • 11:32:50

    MAKOSNot yet? Okay.

  • 11:32:50

    REHMNot yet. Their first battle.

  • 11:32:52

    MAKOSTheir first one. Okay. Well, their first mission together, Tom actually gets -- their first mission, Tom has to watch Jesse fly away. So that was the first one. Now their first together, they fly off to bomb the Yalu River bridges. And the Korean War changed very dramatically. We thought we had the war won. The North Koreans were pushed up to the Chinese border. You know, we think the war is over, when suddenly the Chinese enter the war. And suddenly the tables have turned. And so the stakes were raised that day. It went from being a victory to we were on the ropes. So that -- I guess, there's so much to say.

  • 11:33:40

    MAKOSWhat, Diane, was interesting was that Jesse was Tom's leader. A lot of people assume -- they say, oh, well Tom as leading Jesse. No. Jesse was the flight leader. Tom was the wingman. And Tom is unabashed in saying, I would follow him to the ends of the earth.

  • 11:34:00

    REHMHmm.

  • 11:34:00

    MAKOSSo their mission was ground attack. That was their specialty.

  • 11:34:03

    REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." All right. Let's take a call here from Danville, Va. Barry, you're on the air.

  • 11:34:18

    BARRYThanks, Diane. Enjoy the show and thank you for having Adam on as well today.

  • 11:34:22

    REHMThank you.

  • 11:34:23

    BARRYAdam, thank you for recording this story. But my question is, you know, after hearing the contrasting stories of Jesse Brown and Tom Hudner, how did that impact you?

  • 11:34:37

    MAKOSWell, it was -- it's an inspirational story, really. Jesse came from nothing, literally nothing, and he became so much. And Tom, as you'll hear later, what he did for Jesse, when Jesse was in a very tight spot, was an ultimate act of selflessness. So I learned both about the power of hope and belief from Jesse and I learned about selflessness from Tom. And I call Tom a real-life Captain America. We forget -- we believe sometimes that superheroes, you know, they're from a comic book. But real superheroes don't wear capes.

  • 11:35:16

    REHMYou know, it's fascinating to hear you talk that way, because it strikes me that there are many heroes that we do not recognize in this world. But you have found a story that's really quite remarkable in these two men and how their devotion to each other not only grew as they worked and flew together, but how it affected your thinking, your outlook on other human beings. I mean, did it change you?

  • 11:36:02

    MAKOSIt did. It really did. I think we need more devotion in this world. We need more devotion to each other. We need more devotion to that dream, that American dream. It feels like we've been taking steps backwards as a people.

  • 11:36:16

    REHMWhat do you mean?

  • 11:36:17

    MAKOSOur -- the racial division you see. You know, I think we all hope in our hearts, that was supposed to be a thing of the past. And yet we still have to move forward, we have to find a way forward. And I believe that these people -- Tom and Jesse -- they gave us an example in 1950 that can help us today in 2015. They can be our guiding light. When two men from different worlds become friends and that bond that continues to this day, why can't we have a better tomorrow?

  • 11:36:50

    REHMIt's interesting that, when Jesse first saw Tom's Naval Academy ring, he was really taken aback by it and thought, oh, you know, maybe this so-called friendship is never really going to be.

  • 11:37:11

    MAKOSThere was a stigma about the Naval Academy at the time because, again, it was a bastion of that old boys' club. And, yeah, at first, they thought the ring meant something awful. But he found out it's the man's character that matters.

  • 11:37:25

    REHMAdam Makos, the book is titled "Devotion." We'll take a short break here and we'll be right back.

  • 11:40:01

    REHMWelcome back. Adam Makos is with me. We're talking about his brand new book title, "Devotion," all about serving in Korea. And here's an email from Matt, in Maryland, who says, "I was in 30 or so years ago, served on an aircraft carrier. It was such an amazing experience to work with people of different backgrounds. I didn't even see race. I'm friends with people back then on Facebook and on the carrier group. And many people feel the same way. An amazing experience."

  • 11:40:51

    REHMYou know, this is a true story about Navy pilots, but you also take a lot of time to talk about the conditions and battles facing Marines on the ground. Tell us about that.

  • 11:41:11

    MAKOSWell, Diane, to understand what Tom and Jesse were fighting for, we had to show the men they were flying for. And the Marines were in a desperate battle at a place called the Chosin Reservoir in November and December, 1950. It was a battle worse than the Battle of the Bulge in many ways, worse than the coldest cold you can imagine. They were fighting in temperatures, negative 20 degrees below zero in the far reaches of North Korea.

  • 11:41:40

    MAKOSIt happened when the Chinese surrounded our forces. They ambushed us and suddenly we found 10,000 Marines facing 100,000 Chinese troops. So not only are we freezing to death, we're outnumbered. It was so cold your -- the rumor had it, your eyes would freeze shut if you closed your eyes too long. These men had to keep their canteens inside their coats. They were suffering and they were surrounded. But the difference they had was air power.

  • 11:42:10

    MAKOSBecause when the Chinese entered the Korean War, they left their anti-aircraft guns at home. They left their fighter jets at home. And they just sent their waves and waves and waves of troops. And so Tom and Jesse would come in and they would turn the tide. They would drop bombs, shoot rockets and they were the Marines' lifeline.

  • 11:42:28

    REHMSo during one of those air support missions, Jesse's plane was shot down. What happens?

  • 11:42:40

    MAKOSIt was a tragic moment. It was a lucky bullet fired from an unseen Chinese soldier on the ground. It was December 4, 1950. Tom and the squadron were hunting behind enemy lines, hoping to stop some of these Chinese troops. When Jesse was hit his engine seized up and he crashed in the first place he could see, on the side of a North Korean mountain, in a pasture. And at first it looked like a snow-covered pasture. But when he hit they saw that it -- there was rock underneath.

  • 11:43:09

    MAKOSHe hit so hard, the plane snapped at the nose, Almost 40 degrees to the right. And the plane skidded along this mountainside, a cloud of snow billowed, and when the snow settled they saw Jesse's plane was smashed. And he was inside. And he -- slowly he rolled back the canopy. And they said, oh, my God, he's alive. Now, overhead Tom Hudner's orbiting, watching all this. And they see smoke rising.

  • 11:43:35

    REHMTom's orders and the orders of every pilot had been what?

  • 11:43:44

    MAKOSThe order was don't risk a Navy aircraft pulling some cowboy stunt. A pilot had once asked the commander of their squadron, the skipper, he said, hey, if one of our buddies gets shot down, why don't we just land and pick him up? And the skipper said, it's bad enough to lose one plane, we can't lose two. I will court martial any man who tries any such thing.

  • 11:44:06

    REHMBut Tom sees Jesse's plane go down. We have Tom's voice describing what he found when he, disobeying orders, goes down to rescue Jesse.

  • 11:44:31

    LT. TOM HUDNERI got out of the airplane and it was about 100 yards away from Jesse's airplane, I think. When he saw me approaching the plane, he said something to the effect, we gotta figure out a way to get out of here, very calm. And I saw the reason he didn't get out is because the fuselage was actually bent at the cockpit, maybe 20, 30 degrees. And his knee was caught beside the -- between the inside of the cockpit and a control panel that was between our legs when we flew.

  • 11:45:19

    LT. TOM HUDNERSo there's no way I could move him. But he had -- after the crash he unbuckled his parachute and he'd taken off his gloves to unbuckle the shoot and he'd dropped them on the floor of the airplane. And by the time I got to him his fingers were just frozen solid. And he'd taken off his helmet. And I used to carry around a blue -- Navy would call them watch cap. It was a woolen cap. Pulled that down over his head.

  • 11:45:56

    LT. TOM HUDNERAnd I had -- I took my scarf off and then wrapped it around his hands, which did no good at all, but -- it was just nothing I could do. So I ran back to my airplane and the radio was still working, and called -- explained the situation to the people in the air and asked if they could have the helicopter bring a fire extinguisher and an ax.

  • 11:46:26

    REHMBut that ax did not good.

  • 11:46:30

    MAKOSIt did no good. The ax just bounced off the metal. And what had happened that day had never happened before. It has never happened since. Tom crash-landed his aircraft, intentionally behind enemy lines. So you think about what he went into. He sees his friend down there and he knows it's Jesse, a man of faith. A man with a wife. A man with a baby daughter, two-year-old Pamela. And Tom said, it's Jesse. And he intentionally crash-landed his plane behind enemy lines, in the snow, on the side of a North Korean mountain.

  • 11:47:06

    MAKOSIt's kind of like if one of us was driving and our friend is in front of us and their car goes off a bridge into an icy river and they're going to drown, how many of us would call for help and how many of us would drive our car off the bridge to go in and save our friend ourselves? That's what he did. A white pilot in 1950, risking his life to save the Navy's first black pilot.

  • 11:47:30

    REHMSo when the helicopter finally arrives with an ax, what happens?

  • 11:47:40

    MAKOSTom is unable to pull him out. They're unable to cut Jesse out. And Jesse has already faded. In his last moments, his eye -- he was slumping over, his eyes were glassy and he looked up and he said in a weak voice, in a shallow breath he said, Tom, will you do one thing for me? And Tom said, anything, anything. Now, this is when they're alone, just together.

  • 11:48:03

    MAKOSHe says, just tell Daisy how much I love her. And then his head slumps. And that was the last time he ever spoke. So Tom took those words, and when the helicopter pilot came he said, you either come with me Tom or you die here.

  • 11:48:17

    REHMBecause you're going to freeze to death and Jesse is gone.

  • 11:48:23

    MAKOSExactly.

  • 11:48:23

    REHMJesse had stopped breathing. He had slumped over. How horrible for Tom to see that. And, by the way, we know that Tom is listening today. He lives in Concord, Mass. He is today suffering from Parkinson's disease. So I want to give a shout out to Tom Hudner. He had to make that decision as to whether to stay with his dear friend Jesse or leave. And he really hesitated at the end.

  • 11:49:13

    MAKOSHe certainly did. He's a wonderful man. And he made a promise to Jesse. Now, Jesse might have already been dead by then, but he said it anyway. He said, we'll be back for you. And an incredible thing happened, Diane. When I was writing this book and I got to that part of the story and I typed those words, I picked up the phone and called Tom. And I said, Tom, did you ever get to keep your promise? He said, no. Nobody goes to North Korea. We're unable to go there.

  • 11:49:37

    MAKOSAnd I said, well, if I can get you to North Korea, would you go back to try to find Jesse, to try to bring his remains home to keep your promise. And he said, yes, I would.

  • 11:49:48

    REHMAnd?

  • 11:49:51

    MAKOSAnd in 2013, at age 89, Tom Hudner went to North Korea. He…

  • 11:49:57

    REHMWith?

  • 11:49:57

    MAKOSI accompanied him. I tagged along.

  • 11:49:59

    REHMHow did you get permission to do that?

  • 11:50:02

    MAKOSWell, we had some contacts that made the overtures to the North Korean government. And Tom's rank -- see, Tom earned the Medal of Honor for his attempt to save Jesse.

  • 11:50:12

    REHMInstead of being chewed out by his senior officer for going down after Jesse, what did he say to Tom?

  • 11:50:26

    MAKOSWell, instead the commander said, thank you for what you did to try to save our friend. The rules went out the window because they realized it was Jesse. And there was something about him that was above the rules. And so instead President Truman called Tom to the White House and he presented him the Medal of Honor. And Tom felt this lifelong devotion. And so when he went to North Korea, he sat down across from the North Korean Army, three colonels.

  • 11:50:53

    MAKOSAnd he said, we need you to search for Jesse's remains. He's still on a North Korean mountainside. He's still in the wreckage of his aircraft. And he needs to come home so his family can have closure and so our nation can have a hero we need.

  • 11:51:09

    REHMIt was interesting that President Truman also invited Daisy to the White House. Daisy died just a couple of years ago?

  • 11:51:20

    MAKOSShe did. And it was amazing -- she came to the White House because she was -- came all the way from Mississippi by herself. And she met Tom. And Tom gave her Jesse's last words. And Daisy, until that point, had believed that Jesse died alone. And then she said, wait, you talked to him? And Tom said, we were together. I was at the -- standing on the wing of the plane right next to him until the minute he passed. And she said, Tom, that means so much.

  • 11:51:47

    MAKOSAnd someone asked her later that day, Daisy, how are you doing? How are you getting through this? And she said, this is the price of marrying an exceptional man.

  • 11:52:01

    REHMAnd there is an exceptional letter at the end of the book that Jesse had written to Daisy just days before that last mission. It's just beautiful.

  • 11:52:16

    MAKOSIt's heartbreaking and it's beautiful. And I once -- and this letter, everyone should read it. And there's also a photograph. There's a photograph taken on the ship of the white sailors as the news of Jesse's death is announced. And their heads are all bowed. I had once asked Daisy -- I apologized to her. I said, Daisy -- this was after a long interview. I said, Daisy, I'm sorry for making your relive these painful moments. Some are the best of your life and some are the worst. She said, Adam, nonsense. I just love talking about Jesse. Sixty-four years later, that's devotion.

  • 11:52:51

    REHMDid she ever marry again?

  • 11:52:55

    MAKOSShe remarried about seven years after his death. Jesse had prepared her. He took out insurance policies. And he said, my dream is for you to go to college and become a teacher like my mama. And when he died she didn't have enough money to go to college, but an amazing happened, Diane. After Tom received the Medal of Honor, his hometown through a parade for him. And at the very end the citizens gave him a check. It was for $1,000. Back then, equivalent of about $9,000 today.

  • 11:53:23

    MAKOSTom took that check and he said, you know what, it's time Daisy Brown goes to college. And he signed the check to her and he sent it down to Mississippi. And Daisy went on to become a home economics teacher and to live a wonderful life.

  • 11:53:37

    REHMI love it. And you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Let's take a call from Vicki in Cincinnati, Ohio. You're on the air.

  • 11:53:50

    VICKIThank you so much for taking my call. What a beautiful story.

  • 11:53:54

    REHMI should say.

  • 11:53:55

    VICKII wanted -- and I'm so glad that Tom is listening today. And I apologize, I didn't catch his last name.

  • 11:54:01

    REHMHudner.

  • 11:54:02

    VICKIBut I wanted to tell you my -- Hudner, thank you. My son was stationed in South Korea in 2007. And my husband and I went to visit him there. And during our time we went up to the DMZ. And while we were there an elderly Korean gentleman, South Korean gentleman came up to my son, who obviously was in the military, you know, the haircut and just the way they carry themselves. And he grabbed his hands and he bowed and he said, thank you so much.

  • 11:54:25

    VICKIHe said, thank you. You saved our lives. He said, please tell all your servicemen thank you and all Americans thank you. And it was such a beautiful story because so many young Koreans, at that time, they're having protests and all against the American military presence, but this elderly Korean gentleman just was so grateful and so gracious. And I'll never forget him.

  • 11:54:45

    REHMThank you so much for sharing that story. I'm sure there are many stories like that.

  • 11:54:52

    MAKOSThere are many. And 50 million South Koreans live in freedom thanks to the sacrifice of men like Jesse Brown. And, Diane, I think someday Jesse's gonna come home. Tom set it in motion. The North Koreans are gonna search for him. Maybe someday our military will search for him. But he's gonna come home. And before Daisy died she had one last wish. Her dream had always been to bury Jesse under a shady tree in some Mississippi cemetery. But at the very end the schoolteacher in her had a better idea.

  • 11:55:20

    MAKOSShe decided she wanted to see her husband rest in Arlington National Cemetery, so Americans of all races and all ages can come to his grave and be inspired by his life. Because to Daisy, when she looked at the world around her, she realized our world needs men like Tom Hudner and Jesse Brown now more than ever.

  • 11:55:43

    REHMHow likely is it that the North Koreans will not only search, but actually seek to find Jesse Brown's body?

  • 11:55:55

    MAKOSThat's a good question. They gave their word. Kim Jong Un congratulated Tom for coming over. He said, you've come so far after so long to keep a promise for a friend. My army will look for your friend. Now, is that rhetoric or is that realty? Maybe someday we'll see when a flag-draped coffin comes through Arlington on a caisson, maybe we'll see that day.

  • 11:56:20

    REHMAnd that was in 2013 that you and he went?

  • 11:56:24

    MAKOSYes, we did.

  • 11:56:25

    REHMYou had to get all kinds of permissions, didn't you?

  • 11:56:29

    MAKOSUm-hum. We were the first Americans -- well, Tom was the first American of stature since Dennis Rodman. We came just a few months later, but with a very different mission. And my mom was very worried. She said, why are you going to North Korea? It's dangerous there. But you know what? I was with Captain America. I was with Tom Hudner. And I know at the end of the day he's gonna bring his wingman home.

  • 11:56:53

    REHMAdam Makos, his new book is titled, "Devotion: An Epic Story of Heroism, Friendship, and Sacrifice." Adam, congratulations.

  • 11:57:06

    MAKOSThank you, Diane.

  • 11:57:08

    REHMAnd thanks for being here. Thanks, all, for listening. I'm Diane Rehm.

Related Links

Topics + Tags

Comments

comments powered by Disqus
Most Recent Shows