In a time when racial tension plagues our nation, The New York Times bestselling author Adam Makos chooses to tell the story of an unlikely friendship. In his new book “Devotion: An Epic Story of Heroism, Brotherhood and Sacrifice,” Makos wrote about the inspiring companionship between U.S. Navy aviators Tom Hudner and Jesse Brown.
Over the weekend, Makos visited Hattiesburg to speak about his book in the African American Military History Museum located in downtown Hattiesburg, off of Mobile Street. Veterans, professors and interested locals gathered to hear the story of Hudner and Brown.
This story is important because Jesse Brown was a native of Hattiesburg and the first African- American aviator in the U.S. Navy. Hudner and Brown served their country during the Korean War, building their friendship over the years into something that has lasted a lifetime.
Hudner and Brown were friends during the era of segregation. Tom Hudner was a white officer, but his loyalty and love for his best friend Brown overruled any social stigmas that made their friendship “unlikely.”
This love and loyalty was demonstrated in Korea the day Brown’s plane crashed into the mountains. Hudner, in an effort to save his friend, crashed right next to Brown, and tried to help him escape the wreckage. In that moment, Hudner made Brown a promise: ”We’ll be back for you.” Unfortunately, Brown died a while later, but it is Hudner’s act of selflessness and heroism that inspired Makos to write “Devotion.”
“I really wanted to know what was so amazing about Jesse that Hudner would crash-land his plane for him,” Makos said. “And I wanted to know more about Hudner all these years later. What Hudner did was really the embodiment of ‘no man left behind.’”
Unfortunately, Hudner, now age 91, never got to keep his promise. Makos, deeply moved by the story of these two men, is determined to help Hudner fulfill his promise.
“We pulled some strings, we made some promises, we spent some money and took some risks, and we went to North Korea,” Makos said. “Tom, at the age of 89, when he should have been bouncing his grandkids on his knee, when he should have been working on maybe his golf game, got on a plane and flew from Boston to North Korea.”
Hudner and Makos entered into the most unpredictable and dangerous regime in the world to find, recover and bring home the remains of Brown. The North Koreans not only said yes to their endeavors, but also offered to help in the search. However, the U.S. government would not allow them to recover Brown’s remains.
U.S. officials told Makos and Hudner that there would be no search mission until North Korea abandoned its projects with nuclear weapons.
“My question for you today,” Makos inquired of his audience Saturday, “is whether or not the return of U.S. military remains— the return of Jesse’s remains— should be tied to nuclear warfare.”
Everyone in the room answered with a unanimous “no.”
“I was also surprised to find out that our U.S. Korean specialist had never been to Korea,” Makos said.
Jesse Brown died when his daughter, Pamela, was only one- and-a-half years old. She was also in attendance at Makos’ speech and book signing. She has been very involved in the overall process of writing the book as well.
“I want to thank Adam, because for me, he has fleshed out the man I didn’t know,” Pamela Brown said. “When I was growing up most of my relatives got really emotional when I would ask about my dad, and I learned not to ask questions. For me, Adam has brought my father more alive than I’ve ever been able to know before.”
At the end of the speech, eyes were wet with tears in the room. Makos urged the audience to spread the word of Jesse Brown and his inspiring story. His hope is that one day Brown’s remains will be returned to U.S. soil and buried in Arlington so that his life story can live on. Makos claims this story is bigger than a text recalling history.
“It is one of the most incredible stories of humankind,” Makos said. “It’s not just a military story— it is a human story.”