SEOUL, South Korea —
Approval for the unusual journey comes as North Korea prepares for festivities marking the upcoming armistice anniversary. Pyongyang is expected to use the milestone to draw international attention to the division of the Korean Peninsula as well as to build unity among North Koreans for new leader Kim Jong Un.
Hudner does not plan to stay for a massive military parade expected on July 27. But he said he hopes his visit will help to foster peace and reconciliation on the tense Korean Peninsula.
Hudner and Brown were members of Fighter Squadron 32, dispatched to the region deep in North Korea’s forbiddingly mountainous interior to support the trapped ground troops and carry out search-and-destroy missions.
Theirs was a close-knit squadron. But the two men, both in their 20s, came from completely different worlds.
Hudner, of Fall River, Massachusetts, was a privileged New Englander who was educated at prep school and had been invited to attend Harvard. Brown, of Hattiesburg, Mississippi, broke the Navy’s color barrier for pilots in 1948, months after President Harry S. Truman ordered the desegregation of the U.S. armed forces.
It wasn’t an easy role for Brown to take on, Hudner recalled. “People who didn’t know him gave him a hard time just because he was black.”
But those who got to know Brown grew to respect the serious, unfailingly considerate young man who impressed his peers with his dedication to flying — and his gentle sense of humor.
“The squadron, almost to a man, protected him any way they could,” Hudner told The Associated Press before his departure, his pale blue eyes sparkling. “He was a friend who, I’d say, was beloved by almost everybody who knew him. A very special person.”
Late the afternoon of Dec. 4, 1950, Brown and Hudner were part of a six-plane formation over the Jangjin Reservoir, one like dozens of missions in the months previous.