HATTIESBURG, Miss. (WHLT) – “Devotion,” a movie about a Hattiesburg native, was released on Wednesday, November 23.
According to IMDb, “Devotion” tells the true story of a pair of U.S. Navy fighter pilots who risked their lives during the Korean War and became some of the Navy’s most celebrated wingmen.
One of those pilots was Jesse Leroy Brown, who was born in Hattiesburg in 1926 into a sharecropper family. The Naval History and Heritage Command reported, at the age of 22 in 1948, he became the U.S. Navy’s first African American aviator.
Brown became a section leader and flew a Vought F4U-4 Corsair. He was assigned to fighter squadron VF-32 aboard USS Wright (CVL-49). His squadron transferred to USS Leyte (CV-32) in October 1950 as part of Fast Carrier Task Force 77 on its way to Korea to assist U.N. forces.
On 4 December 1950, on the way to Chosin Reservoir with his squadron, Brown said over the radio that his aircraft may have been hit. He crash-landed on the side of a mountain in the snow.
Brown’s wingman, Lieutenant (j.g.) Thomas J. Hudner Jr., realized something was wrong when Brown didn’t emerge from the cockpit of the wrecked aircraft. He decided to crash-land next to his wrecked Corsair. Brown was trapped in his aircraft by a damaged instrument panel with no way to rescue him.
Unable to safely recover his body, Brown’s shipmates instead decided to honor him with a warrior’s funeral. On 7 December 1950, seven aircraft loaded with napalm made several low passes over his downed Corsair to drop the napalm on his plane while reciting The Lord’s Prayer.
Brown posthumously received the Distinguished Flying Cross, the Air Medal and the Purple Heart.
More about Brown’s story can be found on the Naval History and Heritage Command’s website.