Jesse Brown, a black man, became a US Navy pilot in 1946. As one might expect at that time, he faced plenty of race-based obstacles in addition to the inherent difficulties involved in becoming a Naval Aviator. Nevertheless, he prevailed, and flew a Corsair piston-engined fighter from the carrier Leyte, in missions to support US ground troops in the Korean War. On one mission, supporting Marines at the battle of Chosin Reservoir as a member of the VF-32 squadron, he was shot down in rugged terrain. His (white) wingman, Thomas Hudner, observed that Brown had not exited the airplane–which was starting to burn–and landed his Corsair near Brown’s wrecked one with the intent of getting Brown out of the plane and waiting with him until a rescue helicopter could (hopefully) be dispatched before Chinese or North Korean troops showed up.
Oh, and by the way, while Leyte was in the Mediterranean, prior to being dispatched to Korea, several of the aviators met actress Elizabeth Taylor while on shore leave.
Definitely sounds like fiction, doesn’t it? But it really happened. While the film indeed took some liberties with the historical truth, the events cited in the above summary are in accord with the factual history.
Race does play a significant role in this movie, of course…since his childhood, Brown had maintained a notebook in which he recorded the various race-based insults he had received over time, especially those telling him all the things he would never have the ability to do. Sometimes he would recite these as a way of giving himself extra inspiration for high performance. But I don’t think the racial angle was overemphasized, given the era and Brown’s apparent actual experiences.
The flying scenes were well-done…real airplanes, not CGI…an actual MiG-15 even made an appearance. (The scene in which a MiG is shot down by a Corsair did not actually happen on this mission, but there was historically an engagement in which a Corsair did manage to shoot down a MiG.) The movie also includes scenes of the ground combat at Chosin Reservoir.
Despite Hudner’s effort, Brown could not be pulled from the wrecked airplane, and died there. He was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross, the Purple Heart medal, and the Air Medal. Tom Hudner received the Medal of Honor from President Truman. The frigate Jesse L Brown, FF-1089, was named after Brown in 1973, and an Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyer was named after Hudner in 2012.
The movie draws on the book Devotion by Adam Makos, which I haven’t read but apparently goes into considerable detail on the Chosin Revenue ground battle as well as the stories of Brown and Hudner and the experiences of other VF-32 members.
Recommended. I thought it was better than Top Gun: Maverick. A little slower, but more sense of realism and character development.