WASHINGTON _ Korean War hero Thomas J. Hudner, Jr. of Concord was unable to reach the wreckage of his lost wingman in North Korea last week, but he did secure a pledge from the reclusive regime to help the US military search for the remains of some of the nearly 8,000 other military personnel still unaccounted for from the conflict.
Hudner, 88, made headlines in late July when he traveled to the communist nation in the hopes of locating the remains of Ensign Jesse L. Brown, the Navy’s first African American pilot, who was lost during the Battle of Chosin Reservoir on December 4, 1950.
However, devastating floods in the northern part of the country prevented Hudner and a team of specialists from reaching the purported crash site.
Yet Hudner did not return completely empty-handed. Top North Korean told him they would be willing to cooperate with US military officials seeking to learn the fate of those missing in action from the 1950-53 war, according to Hudner.
“I feel that although we didn’t get final resolution on this, this meeting has given us a lot of optimism,” Hudner told Voice of America, which traveled with him. “And we know that something is being done now and that will be passed on to the American people.”
Hudner, who returned to the United States earlier this week, said he plans to inform Secretary of State John F. Kerry of the North Korean pledge, made in a meeting with a high-ranking military official.
The US military’s Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command has not traveled to North Korea since 2005 due to icy relations between Pyongyang and Washington over North Korea’s nuclear weapons program.
Hudner was awarded the medal of honor in 1951 for deliberately crash-landing his own fighter plane in an attempt to rescue Brown from the burning wreckage of his downed fighter. Hudner was unable to free his mortally wounded friend before Chinese forces closed in.
The U.S. armed forces had been integrated only two years earlier and concerns lingered that troops of different races would not risk their lives for each other. Hudner’s heroic efforts were viewed by many at the time as evidence that blacks and whites could serve together in combat without any divisions.
The Fall River native’s return to North Korea this summer, coinciding with the 60th anniversary of the end of the Korean War, was an attempt to bring Brown’s remains home to his native Mississippi, where his widow still lives.
Hudner, a career Navy officer who also served in Vietnam and as Massachusetts Commissioner of Veterans Services, told the Associated Press this week that he is not giving up on his quest and hopes to return later this year.
“I have a feeling of great hope as a result of our mingling and meeting the officials here in (North) Korea,” he said before departing. “I feel we’ve accomplished a lot because of the appearance of mutual hope between us and the North Koreans.”