HATTIESBURG, Miss. (WHLT) – It’s a movie on the silver screen and the star is a Hattiesburg native. “Devotion” is a true story about an American hero and the first African American Navy aviator, Jesse Brown. The Pine Belt city honored Brown a few months ago.
The motion picture tells of a friendship that developed between Navy aviators Tom Hudner and Jesse Brown. Brown, who grew up picking cotton, is the first African American Navy aviator who died during the Korean War after his plane was hit by enemy gunfire in 1950.
Jonathan Majors plays the role of Jesse Brown.
“I don’t think after this we will reference the Korean War as the Forgotten War. Jesse stands right beside the Tuskegee Airmen in people’s memory and in people’s esteem. Based on what we did in that film, I have no doubt,” said Majors.
His life is memorialized at the African American Military Museum in Hattiesburg where a reception was held recently with family, friends and cast from the movie to honor him and others who have served our country.
“The fact that a friendship can become a devoted friendship towards another person. No matter what your differences are, you can become friends. Everything doesn’t have to be something that ends in violence or whatever,” said Pamela Knight, Jesse Brown’s daughter.
His granddaughter Jessica Knight-Henry says they’re happy that his story is finally being told so the whole world can see.
“We grew up knowing his story and what he meant to the community, but it’s very powerful to be in this moment and see just how much and what it means to people beyond Hattiesburg and Mississippi and the world. We’re so excited he’s getting his moment,” said his granddaughter.
Tim Hinson served in the Navy and calls Jesse Brown his hero. He’s also a good friend of his daughter, Pamela.
“These two pilots were from different walks of life. But Jesse, with his sheer determination, became an ace pilot. He was killed in action on December 4, 1950. Thomas Hudner crashed his plane trying to save him. They are just amazing pilots. They were both just dedicated to their service. The history of these guys for the United States and for the Navy is just amazing,” said Hinson, who is retired from the Navy.
Christina Jackson plays Jesse’s wife and says this movie is about love, friendship and brotherhood.
“I cried. I cried reading the script. Daisy is introduced as Daisy, Jesse’s wife. His heartbeat, his anger. That made me sit up a little bit more and pay a little bit more attention. The way her scenes are, they’re so beautiful. The way that she is, is so beautiful. The letters that he wrote her are just, they break your heart. To get the chance to be the Daisy to Jonathan’s Jesse, nothing like it,” said Jackson.
J.D. Dillard is the director of the film and hopes you not only walk away with a history lesson about Jesse Brown, but also a message.
“It’s really a story about mutual understanding and how difficult it really is to be there for someone in the way that they need you there for them. I hope as the film ends and the credits roll, that’s something that you take away,” he said.
For his actions, Brown was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross, the Purple Heart Medal and the Air Medal.