Connection to OSU: Student & NROTC
Survived By: Wife & Daughter
Date of Loss: 4 Dec 1950
Accident Type: F4U Crash
Country of Loss: North Korea
Ensign Jesse L Brown was a man who was as familiar with hardship as he was his own name; yet he was also a man who was familiar with extreme perseverance from an early age. He carried that determination with him through grade school, high school, college and eventually his aviation training, going from another target of racial slurs of the south in the mid early 1900s to a dearly love wingman, pilot, husband and father.
Jesse Brown was born to parents John and Lindsey Brown in a bustling house of eight. From an early age, Brown’s parents put a heavy emphasis on school; in fact, Brown and his five siblings walked over three miles to their one room school house every day. Eventually Brown would move in with one of his aunts in order to attend a better high school. Despite the school being segregated, Brown finished second in his class, earning the title of salutatorian. He then decided he wanted to further his education by attending a higher-level university. Many encouraged Brown to attend an all African-American college as his older brother did, but Brown had bigger aspirations. Following in the footsteps one of his role models, Jesse Owens, Brown was accepted to The Ohio State University.
Brown continued to work hard while attending The Ohio State, overcoming many adversities during his time there. Brown started out running Track and Field and wrestling at the university, but had to drop both sports in order to maintain multiple jobs to pay for tuition. Despite working a janitorial job and a job at the local railroad company from 3:30 to midnight every day, Brown’s grades stayed in the top tier. Brown was earning his architectural engineering degree, but had hopes of entering the aviation program. Despite his top grades, the university turned him down multiple times because of his race. Brown later learned of an aviation program through the Naval Reserve Officer Training Corps (NROTC) program at Ohio State. Brown joined the Naval Reserves on July 8, 1946.
From there, Brown went on to earn his commission into the United States Navy, one of the fourteen African American out of the 5,600 total who completed the program. Brown went on to aviation training, expecting what he had met the rest of his live: resistance to his presence. He was pleasantly surprised, however, at how accepting the other cadets in aviation training were. While training in Pensacola, Florida, Brown secretly married Daisy Nix because marriage for the men training for aviation was strictly prohibited on grounds of dismissal from the program. They had one daughter later in 1949.
Ensign Brown was assigned to the Fighter Squadron 32 aboard USS Leyte where he performed many training exercises for the 18 months after completing his pilot training. By the outbreak of the Korean was, Brown had gained the respect of his superiors and his fellow wingmen so that the others saw him as a skilled pilot and talented leader.
Once the conflict in Korea began, the leaders of the campaign believed more superior pilots were needed, which is when the Leyte, Ensign Brown’s ship, was called into action. The Leyte sailed half way across the world, arriving inKorea on October 8, 1950. Ensign Brown flew countless close air support missions. One such instance was when 100,000 Chinese troops had 15,000 American troops surrounded. Ensign Brown and the other pilots on the Leyte had many close air support missions to prevent the Chinese from overtaking the Americans.
In one mission Ensign Brown and the other pilots were called in for close air support once again. The pilots were searching for the enemy when another pilot reported that Ensign Brown was trailing fuel. This was most likely due to small arms fire of an enemy hiding in the snow on the ground. Ensign Brown attempted to right his air craft by dropping the external fuel tanks and rockets, but to no avail; his plane crash landed into a bowl shaped valley near the top of a mountain, exploding on impact and trapping Ensign Brown by his leg under parts of the plane. The other pilots were circling overhead trying to see how they could help Ensign Brown, when they learned a helicopter would make a rescue attempt. When his wingman, Lieutenant Junior Grade Thomas Hudner, realized Ensign Brown was trapped, he purposefully crash landed his plane on the mountain and ran to aid his fallen wingman. By this point, a fire had erupted and was inching nearer Ensign Brown’s internal fuel tanks, threatening both men. Ensign Brown began slipping in and out of consciousness. When Hudner realized he would not be able to free Ensign Brown, he attempted to put the fire out with the snow surrounding the plane. The rescue helicopter arrived, yet after 45 minutes of work with an ax, they still could not free Ensign Brown. His last words were, “Tell Daisy I love her.” Fearing ambush, his superiors would not allow Hudner to go back for Ensign Brown’s body; not wanting the plane or body to fall into Chinese hands, they bombed the crash sight with napalm, with the pilots reciting the Lord’s Prayer over the radio.
Ensign Brown was the first African-American to die in the Korean conflict. He was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross, the Purple Heart, Naval Aviator Badge, Combat Action Ribbon, National Defense Service Medal, Korean Service Medal, Korean Presidential Unit Citation, United Nations Korea Medal, Korean War Service Medal and the Air Medal. Among other honors, the Navy commissioned the Knox-class frigate USS Jesse L Brown. Brown’s death inspired many other African-Americans to become pilots, which resulted in many racial barriers being torn down. Brown’s perseverance in his own life has been an inspiration to many others, and he will certainly never be forgotten.
- Mackenzie Wright, 2014