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Woman hopes father’s legacy will help inspire

MERIDIAN, Miss. — Some may have heard his name or seen it on buildings and displays throughout Hattiesburg.

Some may have seen his face on the mural at Veterans Memorial Park, but many don’t know the man behind the name Jesse L. Brown.

A Hattiesburg native, Brown was the country’s first Black Naval aviator. He worked hard to educate himself and work his way through college so he could qualify for the aviation academy. He flew 20 missions in the Korean War before his plane was shot down Dec. 4, 1950, near the Chosin Reservoir in North Korea. He was just 24 years old.

To recognize his bravery and sacrifice, Brown was posthumously awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross, Air Medal, Purple Heart and other military honors. Earlier this month, Brown received another honor when a hangar at Naval Air Station Meridian was named for the ensign who died for his country.

Among the attendees at the May 13 dedication ceremony was Brown’s daughter, Pamela Brown Knight, who was a toddler when her father was killed.

“My family and I are so proud to carry on the legacy of Jesse Brown,” Knight said. “With the help of (those who attended the dedication), we are able to continue to inspire others for generations to come.”

Retired Capt. Donnie Cochran, the first Black commanding officer of the Blue Angels, spoke about Brown legacy and that of his friend and wingman, Lt. Thomas Hudner Jr., who intentionally crashed his plane near Brown’s in an attempt to rescue him.

“It is a story about honor, courage and commitment, and, I might add, sacrifice,” Cochran said.

Hudner, who was white, tried to free Brown, who was trapped in the plane. He stayed with Brown until he was forced to leave by approaching nightfall and subzero temperatures.

Neither Brown’s body nor his airplane was ever recovered, despite attempts by Hudner to bring his friend home. Hudner died in 2017.

Brown graduated near the top of his class at Eureka School, an all-Black school in a time when segregation was still strong in the South. The school recently was converted into a museum that focuses on Hattiesburg’s Black history and heritage.

He went on to attend Ohio State University before joining the Navy and earning his pilot’s wings.

A book documenting the friendship between Brown and Hudner was released in 2017. “Devotion: An Epic Story of Heroism, Friendship, and Sacrifice” was written by Adam Makos. Filming began in 2021 on a major motion picture based on the book.

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