MIGHTY HISTORY

Navy's next ship will be named for this Korean War hero

On December 1, 2018, the Navy will commission a new Arleigh Burke-class destroyer as the USS Thomas Hudner, named for a Korean War-era Navy pilot who crash-landed his plane while trying to rescue his close friend, Jesse L. Brown, one of the U.S. military's first black pilots.

On December 1, the Navy will commission a new Arleigh Burke-class destroyer named for Capt. Thomas Hudner, a pilot who landed his plane in contested territory to save his wingman who was shot down during the Battle of Chosin Reservoir.


A Corsair fires rockets at Okinawa in World War II.

(U.S. Navy Lt. David D. Duncan)

Hudner would later receive the Medal of Honor for his actions, and now an entire destroyer crew will serve on a ship named for him.

Hudner's wingman was Ens. Jesse L. Brown, the Navy's first black aviator. They were piloting F4U Corsairs in support of Marines on the ground during the Battle of the Chosin Reservoir. Chinese forces had joined the war after the U.S. and democratic Koreans had nearly won it. And so, previously victorious U.S. forces were conducting a fighting withdrawal south.

Aviators had to fight tooth and nail to buy time for the withdrawing ground forces. Corsairs and other planes were sent to drop bombs and fire rockets at enemy armor and formations, then strafe for as long as they could, then re-arm, re-fuel, and re-attack.

Ensign Jesse L. Brown, the Navy's first black aviator, died after being shot down in December, 1950.

(U.S. Navy)

On December 4, 1950, Hudner, Brown, and four other pilots were searching for camouflaged Chinese troops in the snowy mountains. They finally found them when the snow started blinking with the muzzle flashes of Chinese riflemen firing at them.

With the Corsairs flying so low, the rifles were actually an effective anti-aircraft weapon, and Brown's Corsair started streaming vapor. It was oil from the damaged engine, and Brown's plane wasn't going to make it. The ensign was going down 17 miles behind enemy lines.

The crash was rough, and the pilots in the air were worried that Brown died on impact. That was, until they saw him move. Still, Hudner was worried about Brown on the ground, exposed to the elements, especially when Brown didn't emerge from the cockpit.

So, Hudner crash-landed his own plane.

Lt. j.g. Thomas Hudner received the Medal of Honor from President Harry S. Truman for his attempted rescue of Ens. Jesse Brown.

(U.S. Navy)

Hudner rushed to Brown's Corsair, only to find him trapped inside. He attempted to get him out while taking breaks to pack snow around the engine and prevent a fire. When he was unable to get Brown out, he radioed for a rescue, but even then, they couldn't save him.

Brown died in the cockpit, and Hudner was nominated for the Medal of Honor, which he would later receive for his efforts.

The new destroyer which will bear his name is of the Arleigh Burke Class. These guided-missile destroyers use the Aegis Combat System, which can fire all sorts of missiles and rockets to target enemies on land, on the sea, under the water, and in the air. They often pop up in the news during ballistic missile tests because they can shoot down missiles in flight and even hit satellites in space.

Members of the 1804 Concord Independent Battery render honors as the future Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Thomas Hudner (DDG 116) arrives in Boston, Massachusetts on November 26, 2018..

(U.S. Navy Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Joshua Hammond)

But they're also often used in Tomahawk missile strikes. The USS Higgins, an Arleigh Burke-class destroyer, fired 23 missiles from the North Arabian Gulf into Syria during that large strike in April.

While the destroyers cost over four times as much as littoral combat ships, smaller vessels with a similar mission set and armament, the destroyers' eye-watering $2 billion cost per ship is generally considered well worth the price. That's partially because the Aegis system on the destroyer is so much more capable, but also because the Arleigh Burkes are thought to be much more survivable than the LCS variants.

The USS Thomas Hudner will be the 66th Arleigh Burke-class destroyer in the U.S. Navy.