Google+ Badge BLACK SOCIAL HISTORY
Monday, 29 September 2014
BLACK SOCIAL HISTORY : AFRICAN AMERICAN " JESSE BROWN " THE FIRST AFRICAN AMERICAN NAVAL AVIATOR : GOES INTO THE " HALL OF BLACK HEROES "
The Wright Brothers sold their first airplane to the U.S. Amy in 1909. It would be 39 years later before the first black man was able to fly for the U.S. military. This is the story of that pilot.
Many people have heard of the Tuskegee Airmen, the first African-American U.S. Army pilots who flew during World War II. Less well known is Jesse Leroy Brown, the first African-American U.S. Navy pilot who flew during the Korean War.
Blessed with strong determination, he overcame racial barriers of the times while making many unlikely friends. Shot down in Korea in 1950, his story is an inspiration to all and an example of the commonality of man.
Born a sharecropper’s son in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, Jesse dreamed of becoming a pilot after his father had taken him to a local air show when he was just six years of age. First, however, he realized he had to go to college. Ohio State University (OSU) was his choice since one of his heroes was Jesse Owens, the great black Olympic champion. Owens had been a track star at OSU. Jesse Brown was a track star in high school.
Ignoring advice that he should attend a black school instead of OSU, Jesse enrolled in the engineering school in 1944 with the intent of becoming an architect. Although there were few black students at OSU and only seven had received diplomas the previous year, he received a friendly reception from his classmates.
Jesse was excited to find that OSU had a Naval Reserve Officer Training Corp (NROTC) program that could lead to pilot training. The Navy recruiter, however, told him bluntly that the Navy had no black pilots and had no plans to have any.
Undeterred, he passed the Navy exams and during his second year of college he entered Navy pilot training. Pilot training is tough and being black didn’t make it any easier. While he experienced racial prejudice, his fellow trainees and instructors for the most part treated him like any other trainee and in some cases even encouraged him.
Jesse earned his golden wings on October 21, 1948, the first black person to do so. His picture appeared in Life magazine.
The Navy had a strict rule that no marriages were permitted until after graduation from flight school. Jesse was in love and he was certainly not averse to taking risks. He ignored the prohibition and married his high school sweetheart, Daisy, during his training even though he risked being kicked out of the program. He successfully kept it a secret even though it became more difficult after Daisy became pregnant.
Jesse’s life changed abruptly in 1950 when 100,000 Chinese soldiers poured into North Korea over the Yalu River, trapping 8,000 Marines. The Marines had to run a gauntlet to the sea where they could be rescued. Jesse’s squadron, flying off the USS Leyte, was assigned to protect the Marines.
Flying his 20th mission, Jesse’s Corsair was hit by ground fire over hostile territory and lost power. The only place to land was on the side of a mountain covered by snow. LTJG Thomas Hudner, a Naval Academy graduate and Jesse’s wingman watched in horror as Jesse’s plane pancaked hard on the mountainside.
Hudner was briefly buoyed by hope to see Jesse wave from the open canopy. But he wasn’t making any effort to get out of the cockpit. Something was very wrong, and to make matters worse, there was smoke rising from the shattered plane.
Hudner made a quick decision to try to rescue Jesse. That meant crash landing his plane next to Jesse on the side of the mountain, which he successfully did. Meanwhile, the rest of the squadron circled overhead to watch for Chinese soldiers and radioed for a rescue helicopter.
Hudner found Jesse trapped in the buckled cockpit without his helmet and gloves in below zero temperature and undetermined internal injuries. He covered Jesse’s head with a wool cap and his numb hands with a scarf and used the snow to put out the smoldering fire. But he couldn’t budge Jesse no matter how hard he tried.
Charlie Ward, a pilot friend of Jesse’s, arrived, making a difficult landing with the helicopter. Charlie had an axe, but that didn’t help free Jesse since the axe just bounced off the metal surface of the plane. Jesse kept getting weaker as the two men desperately tried to free him.
Their efforts were for naught and Jesse died as they worked in frustration. His last words were, “Tell Daisy that I love her.” Hudner and Ward wept.
Back on the ship, Jesse’s squadron debated what to do. They didn’t want to leave him for the Chinese so they decided to give Jesse a “warriors funeral.” The next day seven aircraft left the carrier and flew over the crash site. While one plane accelerated in a vertical climb toward heaven, the others dove and released their bombs on the mountainside. The voice of one of the pilots could be heard over the radio reciting the Lord’s Prayer.
On April 13, 1951, President Truman awarded the Medal of Honor to Jesse’s friend and wingman, Thomas Hudner. Jesse was posthumously awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross, the Air Medal and the Purple Heart.