NAS LEMOORE (February 20, 2018) — Naval Air Station Lemoore (NASL) joins the nation in observing National African American/Black History month during February 2018. To commemorate the month, members of the installation’s Multi-Cultural Committee (MCC) provided a program that highlighted the month’s theme, “African Americans in Times of War,” recognizing the contributions African Americans have made to the nation from as early as the American Revolutionary War through present-day conflicts.
This month's observance has its origins in 1915 when historian and author Dr. Carter G. Woodson founded the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History. Dr. Woodson and the association initiated the first Negro History Week in February 1926. Every U.S. president has officially designated the month of February as National African American/Black History Month since 1976.
The event held aboard NAS Lemoore highlighted the accomplishments of noticeable aviation-related war heroes, reinvigorating Sailors of all ethnicities to recognize the bond they shared as fellow service members was stronger than race.
Capt. David James, NAS Lemoore commanding officer, recounted the story Ens. Jesse LeRoy Brown, the first African American U.S. Naval Aviator, a recipient of the Distinguished Flying Cross and the first African American naval officer killed in the Korean War. After earning his Wings of Gold, October 21, 1948, Brown reported for duty aboard USS Leyte (CV-32) flying the FU4 Corsair as part of VF-32.
His story is one of that exemplifies the strength of brothers-in-arms; it transcends race. It is a story of valor and heroism. On the day of his death, December 4, 1950, Brown was part of a six-aircraft flight supporting U.S. Marine Corps ground troops that were being suppressed by Chinese forces. At approximately 1:30 in the afternoon, Brown took off from USS Leyte with Lt. Cmdr. Dick Cevoli, Lt. George Hudson, Lt. j.g. George Hudson, Lt. j.g. Bill Koenig, Ens. Ralph McQueen and Lt. j.g. Thomas J. Hudner Jr., who was Brown’s wingman. The flight traveled 100 miles from the Task Force's location to the Chosin Reservoir, through harsh wintery conditions, to the vicinity of the villages of Yudam-ni and Hagaru-ri.
At approximately 2:40 in the afternoon, Koenig radioed that Brown appeared to be trailing fuel. The damage had likely come from small arms fire from Chinese infantry, who were known to hide in the snow and to ambush passing aircraft by firing in unison. At least one bullet had ruptured a fuel line. Brown, losing fuel pressure and increasingly unable to control the aircraft, dropped his external fuel tanks and rockets and attempted to land the craft in a snow-covered clearing on the side of a mountain. Brown violently crashed into a bowl-shaped valley, destroying the aircraft upon impact. Brown crash-landed near Somong-ni, 15 miles behind Chinese lines in 15 °F weather.
In the crash, Brown's leg was pinned beneath the fuselage of the aircraft. He stripped off his helmet and gloves in an attempt to free himself, before waving to the other pilots, who were circling close overhead. The other pilots, thinking Brown had perished in the crash, began a Mayday transmission to any heavy transport aircraft in the area after seeing this signal. Additionally, they remained close overhead as they canvassed the mountain for any sign of Chinese ground forces who might threaten Brown. They received a signal that a rescue helicopter would come as soon as possible, but Brown's aircraft was smoking and a fire had started near its internal fuel tanks.
Before it became clear Brown was seriously injured, Hudner, Brown’s wingman, attempted in vain to rescue Brown by radioing him instructions for escaping his damaged aircraft. Hudner put his own life in danger when he intentionally crash-landed his own aircraft near Brown’s and ran to Brown's side in an attempt to wrestle him free from the wreck. While Brown's condition worsened by the minute, Hudner attempted in vain to put out the aircraft fire using snow while at the same time trying to pull Brown free. In great pain, Brown began slipping in and out of consciousness. A rescue helicopter arrived around 3 p.m. Its pilot, Lt. Charles Ward and Hudner were unable to put out the engine fire with a fire extinguisher and tried unsuccessfully to free Brown with an ax for 45 minutes. They even considered, at Brown's request, amputating his trapped leg. Brown lost consciousness shortly thereafter. His last known words to Hudner were, "Tell Daisy I love her." The helicopter, that was unable to operate in the darkness, was forced to return to base at nightfall with Hudner, leaving Brown behind. Brown is believed to have died shortly thereafter of his injuries and exposure to the extreme cold. No Chinese forces threatened the site, likely owing to the heavy air presence of Brown and Hudner's unit.
“The story of Jesse Brown and Thomas Hudner is a story that goes beyond color and race,” said James. “It is a story about brothers-in-arms. It’s about being there for the person who serves next to you. We all share that bond today. We all wear the uniform and we all serve together.”
Later in the program, Master Chief Petty Officer Patrick Neely gave remarks, also commenting on the special bond that service members share that transcends race.
“Black History month is about integrity, leadership, and determination. It’s about each of us showing our true character,” said Neely. “Dr. Martin Luther King said he had a dream to change civil rights for all men. He had a dream that all men would live in freedom and justice. That is the exact same thing we fight for and serve for every day, defending our nation. It is the call that goes beyond race.”
The U.S. Navy continues to support events like this on its installations worldwide. African American Sailors and civilians play an integral role in the success of the Navy as part of the One Navy Team. African Americans serve in every rank from seaman to admiral and perform duties in nearly every rating in the Navy. Currently, African Americans make up 17 percent of all Navy personnel or roughly 64,000 Sailors. This includes more than 58,000 enlisted and 5,000 officers. Further analysis shows 17 percent of E-8 and E-9 Sailors are African Americans that hold a range of leadership positions. Nearly 4 percent of flag officers are African American Sailors.
Diversity also influences various thoughts, ideas, skill sets, and experiences, ultimately helping to increase the effectiveness of the Navy. Integrating Sailors and civilians from diverse backgrounds enables the Navy to recruit and retain the nation's top talent from a wide pool of skilled personnel.
For more information on African American/Black History month, a complete educational presentation, including a downloadable educational poster, can be requested from the Defense Equal Opportunity Management Institute (DEOMI) by email at email@example.com.