Grandson of Navy's First Black Aviator Speaks
(February 24, 2011)
|JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (NNS - 2/18/2011) -- Hundreds of Sailors
and civilians gathered at Naval Air Station (NAS)
Jacksonville Officers' Club Feb. 16 to learn about the life
of the Navy's first black aviator, Ensign Jesse Brown, from
his grandson, Jamal Knight, during the annual
African-American History Month observance at the
During his opening remarks, NAS Jacksonville
Commanding Officer Capt. Jeffrey Maclay said, "Today
and throughout our Navy's history, African-Americans
have seized opportunities to serve. They have led
and excelled in challenging assignments, and their
contributions have shaped our legacy. Since the
Revolutionary War, African-Americans have
participated in every war fought by and within the
Maclay also praised the
heroic actions of Brown who was killed during the
Korean War. "On Dec. 4, 1950, Brown's aircraft was
hit while making a strafing run against the enemy.
With tremendous skill, he managed to crash land on a
rough, boulder-strewn slope. He survived the crash,
waving to his friends overhead. They new he was in
trouble when he remained in the cockpit as smoke
began to billow from the wreckage," said Maclay.
"As others attacked and held off enemy troops,
Lt. j.g. Thomas Hudner landed nearby and struggled
desperately to get Brown out. I
Historical file photo of Ensign Jesse L. Brown, seated in the cockpit of an F4U-4 Corsair Fighter plane, the U.S. Navy's first black naval aviator. Ensign Brown flew with the “Swordsmen” of Fighter Squadron Three Two (VF-32) aboard the aircraft carrier USS Leyte (CV 32) during the Korean Conflict. While in Korea, he was killed in action and posthumously awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross. U.S. Navy photo
would like to tell you they both made it and over
the years have become the best of friends, but that
was not to be. Brown died on that slope in Korea,"
Maclay continued. "When Brown risked his life to
help a Marine regiment that day, he didn't consider
their race. And when his fellow pilots saw him in
danger, they did not think about the color of their
skin. They only knew he was an American in trouble."
"Today, we are honored to host his grandson, Mr. Knight, and
learn more about this heroic man's life," said Maclay.
As Knight took the podium, he stood next to a portrait
of his grandfather, then a young, 24-year-old in his Navy
dress white uniform who earned his wings of gold at NAS
Jacksonville in 1948.
"The impact of naval aviation
and the Navy aviator can be viewed in all of its glory
throughout history. We are here to celebrate 100 years of
innovation, courage and devotion. My grandfather Jesse Leroy
Brown's desire was not only to fly, but to fly and be of
service to mankind. He wanted to be a Navy pilot," said
Knight, a senior piping engineer in Houston, Texas.
"Growing up in Southern Mississippi, set the stage for the
adventures that would lead to my grandfather's path to naval
aviation. In an unjust south, he was often told about
everything that he couldn't do or become," Knight continued.
"The word 'can't' became the catalyst for my grandfather to
navigate uncharted territory to set his own path. He would
become a Navy pilot, the first African-American pilot in
Navy aviation history."
Knight went on to say, "My
grandfather was the son of sharecroppers and had five
siblings. It became apparent early on that he was smart. He
skipped two grades and graduated from high school early. He
soon left Mississippi for Ohio State with $980 in his pocket
to pay his expenses. There he spent the next three years
getting a degree in architectural engineering and working
full time for the Pennsylvania Railroad."
grandfather soon realized he could not continue at this
pace, so he tried to join the Navy ROTC. After taking the
test several times, he was eventually allowed to join. In
March 1947, he reported to Navy Air Training Command in
Glenview, Ill. and was finally sworn in as an aviation
midshipman," said Knight.
"He then reported to NAS
Pensacola for flight training where he was berated and
discriminated against daily.
talking about his grandfather's proposal of marriage to his
grandmother prior to their arrival at NAS Jacksonville in
June 1948, where he'd eventually receive his gold wings 4
"His next assignment was at NAS Quonset
Point, R.I. where racism still impacted his life as many
were dismayed to see a black man with aviator wings. He then
reported to Fighter Squadron 32 on board USS Leyte during
the Korean War," stated Knight.
"On Dec. 4, 1950, my
grandfather's flight took off towards the Chosin Reservoir
where he crashed and was pinned in the aircraft. As his
squadron mate Tom Hudner rushed to him, my grandfather asked
him to cut his leg off but he didn't have a knife. My
grandfather died on that ridge. To this day, the plane
wreckage can still be seen from satellites," said Knight.
""Although he faced immeasurable odds, his courage and
devotion would not let him fail. My grandfather was
24-years-old when he was killed in action protecting Marine
troops. I never knew my grandfather, but I carry his story
with me of perseverance, endurance and a deep belief that
with God's help and guidance, I can accomplish anything."
Following his speech, Knight was presented a special
plaque from Maclay in appreciation for him attending the
Knight was also given a base tour where he
was thrilled to stop at places where his grandfather might
have visited during his time here. He also had the
opportunity to "fly" in the MH-60R simulator using the same
runway his grandfather flew on.
"He looked at the
sky and said, 'one day I'll fly a plane.' He fulfilled his
dream. I'm very mindful of what he accomplished and some of
the things he went through. He was a strong, strong man. I'm
proud to carry on the legacy of Jesse Leroy Brown and to
tell his story."
By Kaylee LaRocque
Naval Air Station Jacksonville Public Affairs
Navy News Service
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