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Avatar of GI KoreaBy on May 27th, 2008 at 2:19 am

Heroes of the Korean War: Ensign Jesse L. Brown

» by in: Korean War

The Early Life of Jesse Brown

The US military has seen many African-American war heroes of the years that have in recent times finally been appreciated by the American public at large and even been dramatized by Hollywood in movies such as Glory and the Tuskegee Airmen. However, the Korean War had its own African-American war heroes just like other American conflicts, but similar to most heroes from this war, they have been largely ignored. One of these heroes is US Navy Ensign Jesse Leroy Brown.

Brown was born in Hattiesburg, Mississippi in 1926 as the son of a poor sharecropper. His home had no electricity, running water, or indoor plumbing. Young Jesse Brown growing up in 1940’s Mississippi also had to deal with more then his fair share of racism. However, despite all the adversity facing Brown he was inspired at a young age to be a pilot one day. Young Jesse’s love of aviation began when he used to stare fascinated at airplanes that would fly over his head as he worked in the cotton fields.

His dream of being a pilot 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 for Brown to be accepted to Ohio State because at the time most African-Americans were regulated to attending black colleges. At the time less then 1% of Ohio States student population was considered black and Jesse Brown was one of them.


High school graduation photograph of Jesse Brown.

Following His Dream

Brown did well in college where he studied engineering and in 1946 enlisted into the US Navy ROTC program in order to pursue his childhood ambition of being a pilot. At 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. Brown’s own ROTC instructor at Ohio State used racial slurs against him and discouraged him from trying to be a pilot.


Captain William L. Erdmann gives the oath office aboard the USS Leyte to Ensign Jesse Brown.

Despite this Jesse Brown entered US Navy flight school in Pensacola, Florida. He was the only African-American in a class of 600 students. Brown worked hard at flight school and fought through adversity like he had his entire life and was rewarded by achieving his life’s ambition of being a pilot by being issued his flight wings in October 1948. He had in fact become the US Navy’s first African-American pilot. The following year he would receive naval officer’s commission as an Ensign. By this time the new Ensign Brown had married to his wife Daisy and shortly after had their first daughter Pamela. Life for Brown was good but unfortunately this isn’t where this story ends.

Air Combat in Korea

In 1950 Ensign Brown was assigned to the USS Leyte. In October 1950 the USS Leyte received orders to deploy to the Sea of Japan as part of the United Nations response to the communist North Korean attack against South Korea. Ensign Brown was assigned to the 32nd Fighter Squadron flying F4U-4 Corsairs while assigned to the USS Leyte. In the skies of North Korea, Brown went on to win air combat medals for his part in leading his aircraft section in air attacks against enemy positions in 20 air combat missions. His last mission would prove to be his most heroic of all.


USS Leyte at port in Sasebo, Japan in November, 1950.

In late November, 1950 the communist Chinese had launched their surprise offensive against the advancing UN troops in North Korea. US Marines and the US 7th Infantry Division in eastern North Korea had found themselves surrounded and cut off by the advancing Chinese hordes in an area known as the Chosin Reservoir. On December 4, 1950 Ensign Brown’s section was flying reconnaissance around the Chosin Reservoir area looking for any targets of opportunity to destroy. It they saw any enemy troops or equipment they would strafe them. The Marines and soldiers fighting in the Chosin Reservoir were greatly outnumbered and their air superiority was the one advantage they had against the huge Chinese force they encountered.


Ensign Jesse Brown aboard the USS Leyte.

Corsairs from the 32nd Fighter Squadron swooped down low and fast and strafed every enemy position they could find in support of the soldiers and Marines on the ground. It was after one of these strafings that Ensign Brown called on his radio to say that he was losing oil pressure. Apparently during the strafing one of the enemy’s guns had collected a lucky hit that knocked out his airplanes oil pressure.

The Last Fight of Jesse Brown

The area around the Chosun Reservoir is highly mountainous and thus Brown was going to be in for a hard landing and the condition of his airplane was going to make it only worse. Brown crash landed on the snowy slopes of steep-mountain at about 5,300 feet in elevation. His plane broke apart on impact and the his fellow Corsair pilots initially thought he had to have died in the crash. However, that was not the case as incredibly the hatch of what was left of his plane slowly opened and Brown was waving at people the other pilots to send him help. Brown didn’t exit his airplane so this caused the other pilots to realize he must be either pinned in the wreckage or too injured to get out.


A 1950 image of Ensign Jesse Brown in his F4U-4 Corsair.

Brown’s commander Lieutenant Commander Richard Cevoli radioed in for a helicopter rescue of Brown, but in the meantime the remaining Corsair pilots had to do their best to protect Brown from the Chinese hordes that were swarming over all the hillsides in the area. The Corsairs circled Brown’s wreckage and strafed any soldiers in the area. After a half hour one of the Corsair pilots, Lieutenant Thomas Hudner decided to take matters into his own hands. Hudner became a good friends with Ensign Brown during the year they were assigned together on the USS Leyte. Hudner had been greatly impressed with Brown’s life story as well as his flying skills. Lieutenant Hudner just couldn’t let his good friend die alone on that hillside before the rescue helicopter arrived. It had been thirty minutes and the temperature outside was well below zero. Somebody had to help Brown or he would die before the rescue chopper ever arrived.


Lieutenant Thomas J. Hudner

In an attempt to save his friend, Hudner without asking permission from his commander, decided to crash land his own plane onto the mountain. Hudner flew his plane into the wind in order to slow his descent as much as possible and then crashed onto the same hillside about 100 yards from Brown’s crash site. Hudner’s slower descent by flying into the wind had caused him to land his plane without it breaking fully apart like Brown’s had. This is what Lieutenant Hudner had to say years later about the decision to crash his air plane:

The Navy Public Affairs Library records Hudner as having said in an interview with Jax Air News, the newspaper at the Naval Air Station at Jacksonville, Florida, “I knew what I had to do. I was not going to leave him down there for the Chinese. Besides, it was 30 degrees below zero on that slope, and he was a fellow aviator. My association with the Marines had rubbed off on me. They don’t leave wounded Marines behind.”

The Rescue Attempt

After the landing, Hudner ran over to Brown’s plane to check on his condition. He found Brown still alive but near death from the cold. His hands were completely frozen and he was shivering uncontrollably. He was also in extreme pain from the crash. His Corsair’s control panel during the wreck has buckled forward and smashed into his legs pinning him into the aircraft. Hudner gave Brown what extra clothing he could to keep warm and then proceeded to try to extract him from the plane. Hudner did everything he could to try and free Brown, but was unsuccessful. He ran back over to his plane and radioed that the rescue helicopter needs to bring an axe with them to help free Brown from the wreckage.


Matt Hall’s artist depiction of the crash of Ensign Jesse Brown’s Corsair.

To make matters worse smoke started coming from the wreckage which threatened to engulf into flames what was left of the plane. Lieutenant Hudner left Brown to try and put out the fire by throwing snow on it which he was only able to minimize but now stop the fire with. About an hour after the wreck the Marine rescue chopper finally arrived and they had brought an axe with them. Hudner worked with the rescue team to free Brown from the wreckage, but even with the axe they could not get Brown’s legs unpinned from the wreckage.

It was approaching sunset and the Marine rescue team informed Lieutenant Hudner that their helicopter was not equipped to fly at night and that they would have to leave now. By this time Jesse Brown was barely conscious and the last thing he told his good friend Thomas Hudner was to tell his wife Daisy that he loved her. Hudner and the rescue team flew off and when Hudner reported back to his Captain about what happened he ordered a napalm airstrike on the crash scene of the two Corsairs. A few hours later the two crashed Corsairs were burned with napalm and the frozen body of Ensign Jesse Brown the first African-American Naval pilot was incinerated with it.

The Aftermath

Hudner after the failed rescued figured he would be reprimanded and his Naval career ended for crashing a perfectly fine Corsair aircraft in a failed attempt to save one man, a black man at that. However, Lieutenant Hudner’s command did something totally unexpected, they instead recommended him for the nation’s highest combat award, the Medal of Honor. Additionally the deceased Ensign Brown was awarded the second highest honor for combat pilots, the Distinguished Flying Cross.


Lieutenant Thomas Hudner is awarded the Medal of Honor by US President Harry Truman, Daisy Brown looks on.

Lieutenant Hudner was awarded his Medal of Honor on April 13, 1951 by President Harry Truman during a ceremony held at the White House. Among all the mostly white Americans that had congregated at the White House to award a white man the Medal of Honor was a lone young, black female, Daisy Brown. She stood next to Lieutenant Hudner as he was awarded his medal where he relayed to her the message that her husband Jesse Brown wanted him to tell her, that he loved her.

Remembering Jesse Brown

Today the story of Ensign Jesse Brown is largely forgotten like most of the heroes from America’s Forgotten War. Despite this there are a few reminders of Jesse Brown’s legacy. In 1972 the a Knox Class Naval Destroyer was named the USS Jesse L. Brown in honor of the Korean War hero. Both Daisy Brown and Thomas Hudner were on hand for the commissioning ceremony for the ship. The ship remained on active service until 1994 when the ship was decommissioned and in 1998 it was sold to the Egyptian Navy. There are plans in place by the Navy to possibly name another ship after Jesse Brown in the future, hopefully this happens.


Daisy Brown and Thomas Hudner attend the commissioning ceremony for the USS Jesse L. Brown.

Besides the ship, Jesse Brown has had a barracks building at a Meridian, Mississippi Naval Base named after him along with a country tax building in his hometown of Hattiesburg. Finally in 1998 a book, The Flight of Jesse Leroy Brown was written with the help of Daisy Brown to further increase awareness of the short, but incredible life of Jesse Brown.

Recently there was controversy at the Cannes Film Festival when Spike Lee some what accused Clint Eastwood of racism for not including any black soldiers in his two films about the Battle of Iwo Jima. I have watched both movies and never even noticed that there was no black soldiers in them, however if Spike Lee wants to increase awareness about the service of African-Americans in wartime then instead of attacking Clint Eastwood how about he make a movie based on the life of Jesse Brown? The story of Jesse Brown is one literally just waiting for a Hollywood film to be made. With all the crap war films out there like Rendition, In the Valley Elah, Stop Loss, and the rest of the anti-military films being released by Hollywood, the story of Jesse Brown is one that needs to be told and one I am willing to bet that millions of Americans would line up to see at the box office as well.


A Black History poster featuring Ensign Jesse Brown and the destroyer named after him.

Ensign Jesse Brown was a true American success story. He overcame poverty and racial discrimination to follow his life’s dream to become a pilot. Through hard work and dedication he completed college became a Naval officer and a pilot. Not only was a pilot but he was a great one as well that excelled in combat and ended up paying the ultimate price for defending his country that had earlier treated him as a second class citizen. For his inspiring life story as well as his combat heroism during the Korean War, Ensign Jesse L. Brown is without a doubt a Hero of the Korean War.


Temporary lodging facility at Naval Air Station Meridian in Mississippi named after Ensign Jesse L. Brown.

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  • Richardson
    8:17 pm on May 26th, 2008 1

    Helluva way to go.

  • CPT KIM
    12:27 am on May 27th, 2008 2

    Wow!!!! What a story. You are right. This will make a great Hollywood movie. I vote for Will Smith to play Ensign Brown. He already played a USMC pilot in ID4, maybe he might like to play the real hero part.

  • Roland Dodds
    1:34 am on May 27th, 2008 3

    A true hero. Thanks for the bio GI.

  • GRH
    1:59 am on May 27th, 2008 4

    Casting would be interesting. It's going to become a problem if these roles are only filled by Will Smith. I wish Hollywood would start casting more of the thousands of talented African-American actors out there.

    Regardless, this was an excellent story, GI.

  • Avatar of GI KoreaGI Korea
    2:02 am on May 27th, 2008 5

    I think Will Smith would be a great actor for the role other then the fact that Jesse Brown died at age 24 which Will Smith is obviously much older then now. I think he could pull it off though.

  • CPT KIM
    2:51 am on May 27th, 2008 6

    If Will Smith can play Ali by gaining all those weight, maybe he can play young 24 year old Naval pilot.

  • GRH
    3:17 am on May 27th, 2008 7

    Don't get me wrong, I think Will Smith could pull it off and do an amazing job. I'm just getting a little Smith-Washington fatigue.

  • ChickenHead
    3:32 am on May 27th, 2008 8

    From the Producers of Independence Day and the Director of Armageddon…

    "Will Smith is US Navy Ensign Jesse Leroy Brown in The Flying Fresh Prince of the Chosin Reservoir."

    "Heh, heh, heh. Yo, man, so like I was sayin', we are gonna like so bomb those little Chinese haters!"

    Come on, guys. This explains why you aren't all casting directors. Will Smith is a likable guy… and he plays Will Smith very well… but he ain't up for a heavy role like, say, Denzel Washington.

    …might as well turn it into a Blaxploitation send-up…

    Quentin Tarantino's "I'm Gonna Strafe You, Sucka!"

  • Gerry
    4:10 am on May 27th, 2008 9

    People you seem to forget, its not about Will Smith. Its about Jesse Brown. The man deserves better.

  • GRH
    4:24 am on May 27th, 2008 10

    We didn't forget. We're discussing how best to portray his legacy.

  • Heart
    11:49 am on May 27th, 2008 11

    What a great post to end the Memorial weekend, GI. I enjoyed learning about trailblazing Jesse Leroy Brown. And how about that Lieutenant Hudner? Awesome men, both.

    Another story I've read is the one of Charles M. Bussey, a Tuskegee Airman who served as a Combat Engineer, during the Korean War. I'd love to see both of these stories on the big screen.

  • Avatar of GI KoreaGI Korea
    12:24 pm on May 27th, 2008 12

    Heart, thanks for the tip on Charles Bussey. I haven't heard of him before so I look forward to researching his story.

  • Horace Jeffery Hodge
    12:52 pm on May 27th, 2008 13

    Great story.

    Jeffery Hodges

    * * *

  • air force museum
    9:17 pm on May 28th, 2008 14

    [...] the American public at large and even been dramatized by Hollywood in movies such as Glory and thehttp://rokdrop.com/2008/05/27/heroes-of-the-korean-war-ensign-jesse-l-brown/Documentary focuses on BAFB history KTBS ShreveportBarksdale air force Base is celebrating its 75th [...]

  • But, I am a Liberal!
    10:05 am on June 15th, 2008 15

    [...] at ROK Drop, there is a fine bio for Jesse Brown, one of the African American heroes from the Korean War, and [...]

  • Remembering the Korean War in Pictures - Part 2
    7:01 am on June 26th, 2008 16

    [...] With the Chinese entry into the war the Marines and the 7th Infantry Division fought a desperate battle to escape a Chinese trap in brutal winter weather at the Chosin Reservoir: [...]

  • Recognizing Heroes of the Korean War
    8:53 pm on July 17th, 2008 17

    [...] Ensign Jesse L. Brown (USA), US Navy 32nd Fighter Squadron, Chosin Reservoir [...]

  • Korea Chosen Reservoir Leave No Man Behind - Dogpile Web Search
    9:45 am on July 31st, 2008 18

    [...] Magazine. … http://www.nationalalliance.org/bits/naf2004/naf2004.htm &#149 Found on Google Heroes of the Korean War: Ensign Jesse L. Brown The Marines and soldiers fighting in the Chosin Reservoir were greatly outnumbered and … They [...]

  • Anthony Middleton
    10:15 am on October 22nd, 2008 19

    As an ex-Navy FC2 I find learning more about African American such as Jesse Brown and Dorie Miller, and Leonard Harmon gratifying.

    Glad to see that some ships were named for distinguished African American one of which Jesse l Brown was at Charleston when i was homeported their.

    This is a very good article with picture and I would like to use it for a Black History Program because it give good information and photos.

    Ex Navy FC2 Middleton

  • Avatar of GI KoreaGI Korea
    11:06 am on October 22nd, 2008 20

    I would be honored for you to use the posting for the Black History Month Program. All I ask is just a citation crediting the site for the information. Thanks for visiting the site.

  • Heroes of the Korean War: COL Young-oak Kim
    7:13 am on November 12th, 2008 21

    [...] which was shown primarily in the Asian-American community, but really like other Korean War heroes I have pointed out, his story should be the subject of a larger film. Kim’s life story isn’t just one that [...]

  • Forgotten Heroes – Jesse LeRoy Brown 1st US NAVY African-American Aviator | Resurrection of the Stratford Corsair
    10:04 pm on September 18th, 2010 22

    [...] Heroes of the Koren War This entry was posted in Korean War and tagged African-American, Corsair, F4U-4, korean, naval aviator, US NAVY, VF-34. Bookmark the permalink. ← Partners in Business… How to Make Something Out of Nothing for the Stratford Corsair [...]

  • Iris Johnson
    4:07 pm on November 11th, 2010 23

    I would like to thank you for this biographical sketch of Ensign Jesse L. Brown's life. I personally know the Brown family and, as a Mississippian, I am very proud of Ensign Jesse L. Brown's accomplishments in the midst of so many challenges and adversity.

    I would love to see a movie made of his life. I think Denzel Washington would be the perfect actor to choose to portray him in a movie.

    So, on this Veterans' Day, I salute Ensign Jesse L. Brown for paying the ultimate price to preserve our freedom. He's gone but definitely not forgotten.

  • THOMAS J. BURNS
    6:07 am on May 19th, 2012 24

    AFTER I READ THE STORY ABOUT ENS. JESSE LEROY BROWN IN THE LATE 1990′S I SUGGESTED BOTH ONLINE AND I GAVE A COPY OF THE BOOK TO AN ASPIRING YOUNG WRITER AND SAID THAT THIS STORY MUST BE TOLD. I HAVE ALWAYS LOVED NAVAL AVIATION AS MY FATHER WAS A NAVY FIGHTER PILOT WHO FLEW THE SAME AIRCRAFT AS ENS. BROWN IN THE SAME ERA. IT IS A WONDERFUL STORY OF BROTHERHOOD THAT TRANSCENDS RACIAL AND ETHNIC LINES. ENS. BROWN WAS A MAN OF FAITH, COURAGE AND CHARACTER. WHEN MY WIFE AND I WENT TO SEE “MEN OF HONOR”, SHE LOOKED AT ME AND SAID THAT THIS IS THE STORY THAT YOU WANTED TOLD ABOUT ENS. JESSE BROWN. I TELL EACH OF MY GRANDSONS ABOUT HIM IN HOPE THAT HIS LEGACY WILL CONTINUE. IT IS MY FERVENT HOPE THAT HIS AND THOMAS HUDNER’S STORY BE BROUGHT TO THE SCREEN IN A CLASSY AND REVERENT MANNER AND THAT THE CASTING BE TRUE TO LIFE AND JUST NOT CAST FOR BOX OFFICE HYPE. MA Y GOD BLESS HIM. HIS FAMILY AND HIS FELLOW SHIPMATES.

  • Articles | Exploration Travel Magazine
    11:35 am on February 11th, 2013 25

    [...] exhibits about some of Hattiesburg’s local heroes would be Jesse L. Brown, the first African-American to become a naval aviator, and Ruth Bailey Earl, who enlisted in the [...]

  • Vet's daughter
    6:39 pm on July 14th, 2013 26

    My father was one of the airmen that made up the rescue crew who tried in vain to rescue Jesse Brown. It wasn’t a Marine rescue team that arrived on the helicopter but rather a Naval rescue team.

  • Medal of Honor Recipient Searches for Remains of Ensign Jesse Brown In North Korea | IPOPSOS
    1:30 am on July 20th, 2013 27

    [...] of the people I have recognized as one my Heroes of the Korean War, Ensign Jesse Brown is in the news this week as the Medal of Honor recipient who tried to rescue him after he crashed [...]

  • Amilton Muniz
    11:07 am on January 23rd, 2014 28

    I would like to honor both pilots,one for determination “to be a pilot” and the other for demonstrate the real meaning of frienship.

  • Glans
    12:22 pm on January 23rd, 2014 29

    Jesse Brown was a brave American, but that stuff about racism is a bunch of baloney. He was born sixty-five years after the Civil War. He had equal protection of the laws and the right to vote. As a bonus, he could not be enslaved.

  • setnaffa
    3:07 pm on January 23rd, 2014 30

    @29, see, I just don’t think glans is all there; but he might not be there at all… Is that the real glans or Tom acting up again?

    We all know there is racism everywhere. Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton will tell us, even if we don’t hear it from AG Holder or some other leading Democrat.

    But Jesse Brown was an American who lived as an example of what was possible for those with the desire to succeed–and died as a hero fighting for America.

 

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