b. 31/08/1924 Fall River, Massachusetts. d. 13/11/2007 Concord, Massachusetts.
DATE OF MOH ACTION: 04/12/1950 Chosin Reservoir, Korea.
Hudner was born August 31, 1924 in Fall River, Massachusetts. His father, Thomas Hudner Sr., was a businessman of Irish descent who ran a chain of grocery stores, Hudner’s Markets. Three brothers were later born, named James, Richard, and Phillip.
Hudner entered the prestigious Phillips Academy in Andover, Massachusetts, in 1939. His family had a long history in the academy, with his father graduating in 1911 and his uncle, Harold Hudner, graduating in 1921. Eventually, the three younger Hudner children would attend the academy as well; James in 1944, Richard in 1946 and Phillip in 1954. During his time in the high school, Thomas was active in several organizations, serving as a team captain in the school track team as well as a member of the football and lacrosse teams, a class officer, a member of student council, and an assistant house counselor.
Following the attack on Pearl Harbor and the United States’ entry into World War II, Hudner heard a speech by academy headmaster Claude Fuess which he later said inspired him to join the military. One of 10 from Phillips to be accepted into the academy from his class, he entered the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland, in 1943 and graduated in 1946. By the time he was commissioned, however, World War II had ended. Hudner attended the Naval Academy with a number of other notable classmates, including Marvin J. Becker, James B. Stockdale, Jimmy Carter, and Stansfield Turner. He played football at the academy, eventually becoming a starting running back for the junior varsity team.
After graduation, Hudner served as a communications officer aboard several surface ships. During his initial years in the military, Hudner said he had no interest in aircraft. After a one-year tour of duty aboard the Baltimore-class heavy cruiser USS Helena, which was operating off the coast of Taiwan, he transferred to a post as a communications officer at the Naval Base Pearl Harbor where he served for another year. By 1948, Hudner became interested in aviation, and applied to flight school, seeing it as “a new challenge”. He was accepted into Naval Air Station Pensacola in Pensacola, Florida, where he completed basic flight training, and was transferred to Naval Air Station Corpus Christi in Texas, where he completed advanced flight training and qualified as a naval aviator in August 1949. After a brief posting in Lebanon, Hudner was assigned to VF-32 aboard the aircraft carrier USS Leyte, piloting the F4U Corsair.
Following the entrance of the People’s Republic of China into the war in late November 1950, Hudner and his squadron were dispatched to the Chosin Reservoir, where an intense campaign was being fought between X Corps (United States) and the People’s Volunteer Army’s 9th Army. Almost 100,000 Chinese troops had surrounded 15,000 U.S. troops, and the pilots on Leyte were flying dozens of close air support missions every day to prevent the Chinese from overrunning the area.
Hudner was awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions on December 4, 1950 near the Chosin Reservoir. He was presented with his Medal by President Harry S Truman on April 13, 1951 at The White House. After receiving the Medal of Honor, Hudner was transferred to the United States and served as a flight instructor at Naval Air Station Corpus Christi in Texas in 1952 and 1953. Following this, he served as a staff officer for Carrier Division 3, which at the time was part of Task Force 77 and operating around Japan, in 1953 and 1954. In 1955 and 1956, he served in Air Development Squadron 3 at Naval Air Station Atlantic City in New Jersey, where he flew developmental and experimental aircraft. During this time, he was trained on jet engine-powered aircraft.
Beginning in October 1957, Hudner served in an exchange program with the U.S. Air Force, flying for two years with the 60th Fighter-Interceptor Squadron at Otis Air Force Base in Barnstable County, Massachusetts. During this assignment, he flew the F-94 Starfire and the F-101 Voodoo. He was then promoted to commander and served as aide to the Chief of the Bureau of Naval Weapons until 1962, when he attended the Air War College at Maxwell Air Force Base in Montgomery, Alabama. Upon graduating in July 1963, he returned to flying duty and was appointed the executive officer of Fighter Squadron 53, flying the F-8E Crusader aboard USS Ticonderoga. After serving as executive officer, Hudner assumed command of VF-53. Following this assignment, he was transferred to a position as Leadership Training Officer at the office of Commander, Naval Air Forces, at Naval Air Station North Island in Coronado, California.
Hudner was promoted to captain in 1965, taking command of Training Squadron 24 at Naval Air Station Chase Field in Bee County, Texas, which he commanded in 1965 and 1966. In 1966 he was assigned to USS Kitty Hawk, first as navigator, then as the ship’s executive officer. Kitty Hawk deployed off the shore of South Vietnam in 1966 and 1967, launching missions in support of the Vietnam War, and he served on the ship during this tour but saw no combat and flew none of the missions himself. In 1968, he was assigned as the operations officer for the Southeast Asia Air Operations division of the U.S. Navy. That year, he married Georgea Smith, a widow with three children, whom he had met in San Diego. The two had one son together, Thomas Jerome Hudner III, born in 1971. Hudner’s final Navy posting was as the head of Aviation Technical Training in the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations in Washington, D.C., a post which he held until his retirement in February 1973.
On 17 February 1973, days before Hudner’s retirement, the Navy commissioned the Knox-class frigate USS Jesse L. Brown, the third U.S. ship to be named in honor of an African American. Present at the commissioning ceremony in Boston, Massachusetts, were Daisy Brown Thorne, who had remarried, her daughter Pamela Brown, and Hudner, who gave a dedication. The ship was decommissioned on 27 July 1994 and sold to Egypt.
After retiring, Hudner initially worked as a management consultant, and later worked with the United Service Organizations. Because of his Medal of Honor, he worked regularly with various veterans groups in his retirement as a leader in the veterans’ community, otherwise living a quiet life. From 1991 to 1999, he served as Commissioner for the Massachusetts Department of Veterans’ Services, until he gave up that position to Thomas G. Kelley, another Medal of Honor recipient.
He received a number of honors in his later life. In 1989, he was honored by the Gathering of Eagles Program of the Air Force at Maxwell Air Force Base. In 2001, Hudner presented Daisy Brown Thorne with several of Jesse Brown’s posthumous medals at Mississippi State University. In May 2012, the Secretary of the Navy announced that an Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyer would be named USS Thomas Hudner. The ship was christened on April 1, 2017, with Hudner in attendance, and commissioned in Boston on 1 December 2018.
After 1991, Hudner lived in Concord, Massachusetts, with his wife, Georgea. In July 2013, he visited Pyongyang, North Korea, in an attempt to recover Jesse Brown’s remains from the crash site. He was told by North Korean authorities to return in September when the weather would be more predictable.
Hudner’s official biography—Devotion: An Epic Story of Heroism, Friendship, and Sacrifice—was released in October 2015, after seven years of collaboration with author Adam Makos. Hudner died at his home in Concord, Massachusetts, on November 13, 2017, at the age of 93. He was interred at Arlington National Cemetery on April 4, 2018, in a ceremony attended by General Joseph Dunford, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Hudner is portrayed in the 2022 film Devotion by Glen Powell.
For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty as a pilot in Fighter Squadron 32, while attempting to rescue a squadron mate whose plane, struck by antiaircraft fire and trailing smoke, was forced down behind enemy lines. Quickly maneuvering to circle the downed pilot and protect him from enemy troops infesting the area, Lt. (j.g.) Hudner risked his life to save the injured flier who was trapped alive in the burning wreckage. Fully aware of the extreme danger in landing on the rough mountainous terrain, and the scant hope of escape or survival in subzero temperature, he put his plane down skillfully in a deliberate wheels-up landing in the presence of enemy troops. With his bare hands, he packed the fuselage with snow to keep the flames away from the pilot and struggled to pull him free. Unsuccessful in this he returned to his crashed aircraft and radioed other airborne planes, requesting that a helicopter be dispatched with an ax and fire extinguisher. He then remained on the spot despite the continuing danger from enemy action and, with the assistance of the rescue pilot, renewed a desperate but unavailing battle against time, cold, and flames. Lt. (j.g.) Hudner’s exceptionally valiant action and selfless devotion to a shipmate sustain and enhance the highest traditions of the U.S. Naval Service.
BURIAL LOCATION: ARLINGTON NATIONAL CEMETERY, ARLINGTON, VIRGINIA.
SECTION 54, GRAVE 2135.
LOCATION OF MEDAL: FAMILY.