Navy Veteran Jesse L. Brown is today's Veteran of the Day.

During African American History Month, today’s #VeteranOfTheDay is Navy Veteran Jesse L. Brown, who was a pilot killed in action serving in the Korean War.

Jesse L. Brown was born in October 1926 in Hattiesburg, Mississippi. When he was six years old, his father took him to an air show, which was the impetus for his interest in becoming a pilot.

While at college, Brown learned of the Naval Aviation College Program, a flight-training initiative. A recruiter told him he would not pass the qualifying exams and even if he did, the Navy did not have African American pilots. Despite all odds, Brown passed the exams and joined the program. The Navy then offered monthly compensation that allowed Brown to quit his other jobs.

As an aviation midshipman, he attended a series of flight training courses. The last one was at flight school in Pensacola, Florida. While there, he secretly married his high school sweetheart. Marriage for men in the training program was prohibited until after graduation, and, if found out, Brown could have been discharged from the program. In October 1948, he graduated from flight school and became the first African American to earn his Navy wings.

As Brown broke the color barrier, his achievement grabbed the media’s attention and his picture was in “Life” magazine. Brown was assigned to Fighter Squadron 32 and was aboard the USS Wright before his unit transferred to the USS Leyte. At the start of the Korean War in 1950, the USS Leyte was called for duty.

On Dec. 4, 1950, Brown, as squadron leader, was on a strike mission to the Chosin Reservoir in North Korea. About an hour into the mission, one of the pilots saw what looked like fuel leaking from Brown’s plane, apparently hit by gunfire. According to, Brown radioed, “This is Iroquois One-Three. I’m losing power. I have to put it down. Mayday. Mayday.” Brown crash-landed on the side of a mountain. His wingman, Lt. Thomas Hudner Jr., saw that Brown did not emerge from his plane. Hudner Jr. then crash-landed next to Brown’s wreckage. In doing so, he risked his own life, a court-martial and capture by the enemy. Hudner Jr. was unable to free Brown, who was injured and trapped by the crushed instrument panel. Even when help arrived, the men were unable to free him. Before he died, Brown asked Hudner Jr. to tell his wife he loved her. He was 24 years old.

Brown earned various medals and honors, including a Distinguished Flying Cross, a Purple Heart and an Air Medal. In addition, the Navy commissioned a frigate in his honor, naming it USS Jesse L. Brown.

We honor his service.

Nominate a Veteran for #VeteranOfTheDay

Do you want to light up the face of a special Veteran? Have you been wondering how to tell your Veteran they are special to you? VA’s #VeteranOfTheDay social media feature is an opportunity to highlight your Veteran and his/her service.

It’s easy to nominate a Veteran. Visit our blog post about nominating to learn how to create the best submission.


Writer: Michael Veronda

Editor: Julia Pack

Fact checker: Carl Wesseln

Graphic artist: Courtney Carr

Share this story

Published on Feb. 2, 2021

Estimated reading time is 2.7 min.

Views to date: 241


  1. Pierre Carton February 9, 2021 at 12:09 am

    Thank all of you!

  2. ABHC Kelvin L Davis February 3, 2021 at 12:50 pm

    Thank you sir for your sacrifice for this country. I am honored to have also served in the U.S. Navy and I appreciate the path that you have paved for all African Americans who served after you. God bless you and your family.

  3. S B February 3, 2021 at 9:26 am

    Thanks for this story which showed discrimination existed after the Federal Mandate to desegregate. My Father was an Officer during this time. We lived off base because their was no housing on base.

  4. Brian Robt. C. Brooks February 2, 2021 at 11:56 pm

    What a joy to see the name of one of the ships I served on during my 20 years of service in the NAVY! All in the Pacific area.

  5. Senior Veterans Care Network February 2, 2021 at 3:36 pm

    We honor the service of Jesse L. Brown.

Comments are closed.

More Stories

  • Today’s #VeteranOfTheDay is Marine Corps Veteran Stephen W. Pless, who served in the Vietnam War and is the only Marine aviator to be awarded a Medal of Honor during the war.

  • Alan Shepard served in the Navy aboard a destroyer and as a test pilot. He was a member of the NASA Mercury Seven and became the first American to travel into space.

  • Army Veteran Charles W. Whittlesey is a Medal of Honor Recipient and is today’s Veteran of the Day.