Thomas J. Hudner, Jr., was a naval aviator in the Korean War and recipient of the Congressional Medal of Honor for his valiant efforts to rescue his flight lead from a burning aircraft. Born in Fall River, Massachusetts, he attended Phillips Academy in Andover, and then the US Naval Academy. After graduation in 1946, his first duty was on the USS Helena off the China coast and then with the CINCPAC staff for a year in Pearl Harbor. Hudner was not satisfied with shore duty, so in April 1948 he entered Naval flight training at NAS Pensacola, Florida.
Advanced flight training in the F4U-4 Corsair followed at NAS Corpus Christi, Texas, where he received his "Wings of Gold" in 1949. His first flight assignment was flying the F4U-4 Corsair with Fighter Squadron (VF) 32 from the carrier USS Leyte. Lieutenant (j.g.) Hudner flew 27 combat missions from the Leyte during 4 months of brutal Korean winter in late 1950 and early 1951. Following his combat tour, he returned stateside as an instrument flight instructor at NAS Corpus Christi. After a staff tour with Commander Carrier Division 3 in the Pacific, he completed Jet Transition and moved to NAS Atlantic City, New Jersey, to fly numerous jet aircraft for a tour with Air Development Squadron (VX) 3.
Beginning in October 1957, Hudner served 2 years on exchange with the USAF. Assigned to the 60th Fighter Interceptor Squadron at Otis AFB, Massachusetts, he flew the F-94 Starfire and F-101 Voodoo. After serving as Aide to the Chief of the Bureau of Naval Weapons, he attended the Air War College at Maxwell AFB, Alabama, in 1962. In July 1963, Commander Hudner returned to flying duty, in the F-8E Crusader , as the Executive Officer of Fighter Squadron (VF) 53 attached to the USS Ticonderoga. He then served as Leadership Training Officer for the COMNAVAIRPAC staff before transferring to NAS Chase Field, Texas, as the Commanding Officer of Training Squadron (VT) 24.
In March 1966, he sailed on the carrier USS Kitty Hawk as Navigator and then as Executive Officer. Assigned to the Pentagon in 1968, he served as J-3 Action Officer for Southeast Asia Air Operations and finally as the Technical Training Officer on the staff of the Chief of Naval Operations. Captain Hudner retired from the Navy in 1973.
On 4 December 1950, Lieutenant (j.g.) Hudner launched from the USS Leyte , flying his Corsair on the wing of Ensign Jesse L. Brown for a mission near the Chosin Reservoir in Korea. Brown, the Navy's first black aviator, was hit by enemy fire and crashed behind enemy lines in the snow-covered mountains. Brown was trapped in the burning wreckage. Despite nearby enemy troops, Hudner executed a wheels-up landing and quickly began to pile snow on Brown's aircraft to smother the flames. Although assisted by a Marine helicopter pilot, he could not save his fellow pilot. President Truman awarded Thomas Hudner the Congressional Medal of Honor on 13 April 1951 for his courageous actions.