Knowing that a rescue helicopter would not arrive for at least 15 minutes and that enemy soldiers were closing on the helpless pilot, Hudner decided to join his wingman on the ground so that he might remove him from the aircraft before it exploded and help him evade capture.
Tightening his harness and dumping his remaining fuel and ordnance, Hudner dropped his flaps and tailhook and aimed for a spot less than 100 yards from Brown’s wrecked aircraft. Hudner’s Corsair slammed into the rocks and snow, and feeling the rush of sub-zero air, the young pilot briefly wondered if he had made the right decision. But he survived the landing and, rushing to his wingman’s aid, tried to pull Brown from the aircraft. But Hudner discovered that Brown’s right leg was crushed and tangled with the aircraft’s twisted metal, making it impossible to extricate him. Desperate to do something to help, Hudner began packing snow around the smoking cowling with his bare hands, hoping to subdue the fire within.
When the rescue helicopter arrived, with enemy soldiers approaching, the prudent decision would have been for Hudner to leave while he still could. But he and the helo pilot instead worked together, trying to remove Brown from the wreckage, who by now had lost much blood. Try as they might, the two would-be rescuers could not get Brown free. As darkness settled in and enemy troops neared, they considered trying to amputate Brown’s mangled leg. As the two men frantically wrestled with this terrible situation, Jesse Brown died, ending their dilemma. At last, Hudner and the helo pilot reluctantly escaped into the darkening sky.
In 1973, the former wingmen were brought together in spirit, as then-Captain Hudner—wearing the Medal of Honor “for conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity”—stood beside Jesse Brown’s wife, Daisy, and together they watched the brand-new frigate USS Jesse L. Brown (FF-1089) slide down the ways to join the Fleet. Not a storybook ending perhaps, but fittingly bittersweet nonetheless.