Letter to the Editor: Veterans Services Officer attends USS Thomas Hudner commissioning ceremony
On Dec. 1, I had the great pleasure and honor of attending the commissioning ceremony of the USS Thomas Hudner in Boston. The Hudner is the U.S. Navy’s newest guided missile destroyer, named after Thomas J. Hudner, Jr., born on Aug. 31, 1924 in Fall River.
Hudner was a Navy pilot who, in 1950 during the Korean War, flew F4U Corsairs off the deck of the USS Lete for an armed reconnaissance mission north of the Chosin Reservoir. His element leader was Ensign Jesse L. Brown, the Navy’s first African American fighter pilot. On Dec. 4, during the flight, Brown’s plane was struck by anti-aircraft fire, forcing him to crash-land his aircraft on a heavily wooded mountainside. Despite the potential danger, Hudner executed a wheels-up landing with his own aircraft to provide aid to his troubled squadron mate. In sub-zero temperature, he worked to free Brown from the burning wreckage, but Brown was pinned in the cockpit. Without the right tools to free Brown, Hudner began packing snow on the flames to prevent further spreading of fire. He then radioed for a rescue helicopter with an axe and fire extinguisher. The helicopter pilot and Hudner took turns trying to free Brown from the wreckage. Their efforts were unsuccessful. Reluctantly, Hudner climbed onto the wreckage to say farewell to Ensign Brown. Brown whispered to him: “Tell Daisy that I love her.”
On April 13, 1951, President Harry Truman bestowed the Medal of Honor upon Lt. Junior Grade Thomas J. Hudner for his selfless devotion to a fellow shipmate. After receiving recognition for his heroism, Hudner remained on active duty, completing 27 years of Naval service during which he flew 27 additional combat missions in the Korean War, and served as the Executive Officer aboard the USS Kitty Hawk during the Vietnam War. Capt. Hudner retired from the Navy in 1973, and was the commissioner of Veterans Affairs for the state of Massachusetts.
Former Lynnfield resident and veteran U.S. Navy pilot William (Wilkie) Wilkinson also served with Hudner and Brown. Bill flew multiple combat missions during the Korean War flying the F-4U Corsair with fighter squadron VF 32 aboard the USS Leyte. On Memorial Day in 2017, I had the honor of accepting a painting titled “Off to Chosin” depicting a Navy Corsair flying off the Leyte to provide support for stranded Marines during the Battle of Chosin Reservoir in the Korean War. The limited edition print by famous military artist Nicolas Trudgian was commissioned by the Navy to honor squadron VF-32 for their heroism. The subtitle of the print is “Help Is on the Way.” Lynnfield resident and close friend of Wilkinson, Bill Munroe of Durham Drive received the painting from Wilkie, who presented it to the town of Lynnfield in honor of all Lynnfield veterans of the Korean War. It is on display in the Town Clerk’s Office and I encourage all residents to stop in and see it.
Ensign Brown was posthumously awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for his exceptional courage, airmanship, and devotion to duty in the face of danger. A Navy frigate was also named for Brown. After his naval service, Wilkinson became an American Airline pilot. He and his family returned to Lynnfield, where they lived for ten years on Daventry Court. They later settled in Punta Gorda, Fla. and summered on the coast of Maine. Wilkie died on Aug. 29, 2017 at the age of 89. In 2013, at the age of 89, Capt. Hudner returned to North Korea, in the hope of locating Brown’s remains. Unfortunately, he was unable to reach the crash site because of monsoons. Capt. Hudner attended the christening ceremony of his namesake ship at Bath Iron Works in Maine on April 1, 2017. He died at his home in Concord on Nov. 13, 2017 at the age of 93.
To Ensign Brown, Wilkie, and Capt. Hudner: “Fair Winds and Following Seas. We Have the Watch.” Rest in Peace!
Veterans Services Officer