CONCORD (CBS) – At age 87, retired Navy pilot Tom Hudner is proud of what he did during the Korean War. He was humbled by the Congressional Medal of Honor he was awarded then and the guided missile destroyer the Navy is naming after him now.
It was December 1950 and Captain Hudner’s squadron was over enemy territory when his wingman was shot down in the snowy mountains.
“I didn’t even think of the color issue,” says Hudner. “Had I been down there I would have hoped that my shipmates would have done something to help me out.”
The downed wingman was Jesse Brown, the Navy’s first black fighter pilot, who could be seen waving from his crumpled, smoking plane.
“I decided to make a crash landing, pull him out of the cockpit and wait for the helicopter,” says Hudner.
Brown was badly hurt and jammed in the cockpit amid deep snow and sub-zero temperatures. Hudner ultimately had to leave his dying friend and comrade behind and later delivered Brown’s final words to his widow, Daisy.
“He said tell Daisy how much I love her,” says Hudner.
It was just two years after the armed forces desegregated with cynics arguing that men of different colors wouldn’t risk their lives for each other. Now, six decades later, Hudner is proud of proving them wrong.
Senators Scott Brown and John Kerry pushed the Navy to honor Hudner.
Since ships are usually named for heroes only after they die, the 87-year-old jokingly hopes this isn’t some sort of omen.