EAA Corsair is Korean Vet Flown by Medal of Honor Recipient

By Scott Spangler on May 2nd, 2022

Few veterans that fought in World War II are still with us today, and that’s as true for aircraft as well as the pilots who flew them. It is especially true for the veterans who were recalled for Korea, America’s forgotten war, which concluded with an armistice on July 27, 1953. What we see today are stand-ins, reenactors appropriately attired to represent a specific person and point in time.

But there are rare, very rare, exceptions, and one of them is the Chance-Vought F4U-4 Corsair at the center of the Naval Aviation exhibit at the EAA Aviation Museum, which was dedicated April 22. This Corsair, BuNo 97259, flew combat missions over Korea with VF-32, with a number of different pilots, including Lt. jg. Thomas J. Hudner Jr., who flew the airplane after he sacrificed another Corsair on December 4, 1950 in an attempt to free his friend, Ensign Jesse Brown, the Navy’s first Black naval aviator, from his downed Corsair, a selfless act for which he received the Medal of Honor.

Rarer still, descendants of these aviators, Thomas Hudner III, and Jamal Knight, Jesse Brown’s grandson, sliced through the ceremonial ribbon. In his comments, his voice often emotionally hesitant, said their forefathers would find solace in the continuing relationship of the two extended families. Hudner climbed into his father’s Corsair cockpit well before the dedication commenced, and he described his time traveling tactile connection as “a truly surreal experience.”

Another was the January 29 text from Adam Makos, author of Devotion, the book that told the stories of Hudner, Brown, and some of the US Marines who received their air support during their slog out of the Frozen Chosin reservoir. (See Review: Devotion, a Unique Look at the Korean War) “He asked me to look in dad’s flight logbooks for BuNo 97259,” Hudner said, holding up a small, thin hardbound book covered in faded brown cloth. After telling Makos that he found several missions when he flew that airplane, “Adam told me that airplane was in the EAA collection, and then [EAA’s] Chris Henry shared photos of the plane’s logbook pages showing dad as the pilot on the same dates.”

Henry, a member of the EAA Aviation Museum staff, said the Corsair’s Korean connection revealed itself when he was digging through its documentation while preparing “for what we thought would be a routine webinar,” he said. “Sometimes you get lucky. When we got the Corsair, we also got all of its logbooks.” (And at the end of the dedication ceremony, from the family EAA received the loan of Hudner’s watch, wings of gold, and K-Bar survival knife.)

In paging through its flight log, “We discovered where it had been and who flew it; it inspired us to do more research, find photos, and contact family members,” he said. Because so few airplanes wear their hard-earned wartime markings, “We wanted to do the right things for the airplane.” The only deviation from its Korean colors are the names, painted in white block letters, under the canopy. Lt. jg. T.J. Hudner is on the port side, and Ens. J.L. Brown, is on the starboard side.

Simply referred to as 259 by the museum staff, the Corsair stands proud, its wing’s folded on a faux carrier deck elevator, its railing protecting it from visitors. Its nose points up as a copy of Matt Hall’s “Devotion,” a painting that shows Hudner landing wheels up in the snow, with Brown’s bent F4U in the background.

The Navy accepted 259 in October 1945. With the war over, it put it in storage. Returned to service in 1949, it first flew with Fighter Squadron (VF) 32, and then served with VF 33. The Navy sold it to a civilian in 1966, and in passing through several owners, it was a show plane and racer until 1974. Noted warbird pilot Connie Edwards donated the Corsair to EAA in 1982, and EAA invested 12 years in its restoration, painting it in the World War II markings of Marine Corps ace Ken Walsh.

Back in its original wartime uniform, 259 did not take part in the filming of “Devotion,” the major motion picture inspired by Makos’s book and expected in theaters sometime during October 2022. Unlike all the Corsairs and Skyraiders that flew for the movie, 259 is not airworthy. (See Devotion: Bearcats, Corsairs, & Real Moviemaking Oh My!)

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