SEOUL, South Korea —
This time, ground fire struck Brown’s plane, forcing him to land behind enemy lines. When Brown waved for help from his crumpled, smoking cockpit after slamming into the mountainside, Hudner acted quickly.
“I thought: ‘My God, I’ve got to make a decision,”’ he said. “I couldn’t bear the thought of seeing his plane burst into flames.”
Hudner crash-landed his plane in high winds and snowy rocks about 100 yards from the downed fighter. As flames engulfed Brown’s plane, and still under the threat of attack, Hudner scrambled to pack the fuselage with snow, burning his hands in the process. He took his cap off and pulled it over Browns’ ears, then radioed for help as Brown remained trapped in the cockpit, bleeding heavily, his leg crushed and his body temperature dropping in the subzero conditions.
A Marine helicopter arrived, but the pilot and Hudner could not extract Brown from the wreckage.
Before losing consciousness, his thoughts turned to his wife, whose name he whispered in his last command to Hudner: “If I don’t make it, please tell Daisy I love her.”
Hudner reluctantly got into the rescue helicopter. Brown is believed to have died soon after. The next day, U.S. military planes dropped napalm on the wreckage to keep the enemy from getting his body.
Hudner was awarded the Medal of Honor, the U.S. military’s highest award, for trying to save Brown. Brown posthumously received the Purple Heart and the Distinguished Flying Cross.
“He was a leader,” Hudner said. “He had great promise had he not been so tragically killed.”
Hudner went onto a distinguished naval career and later served as Massachusetts’ commissioner of veterans’ services, eventually settling in the revolutionary town of Concord, Massachusetts.
A few years ago, he was contacted by author Adam Makos about doing a book on his wartime heroics. It was Makos, Hudner said, who suggested returning to the crash site. Hudner hadn’t thought it possible, given the abysmal state of U.S.-North Korean relations.