Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Leyte's Korean Cruise

From left to right, the USS Henderson, USS Cimarron and the USS Leyte.
Part 2 in our series of official Navy photos featuring aircraft carriers is this shot of the USS Leyte that was shot during its sole Korean war cruise. Little did I know, when I found this and last week's 8x10s buried in a junk draw in a small Clear Lake, CA antique store, the emotional and heroic story that was behind this image.

The official caption, stamped on the back, reads: "16 Nov. 1950. The USS Leyte (CVA-32) is refueled at sea by the USS Cimarron (AO-22) as the USS Henderson (DD-785) stands fire watch, off the coast of Korea. Official Navy Photo, Released by Dept. of Defense."

Like the Princeton featured in last Tuesday's post, Leyte was one of 24 Essex-class aircraft carriers built for the Navy during and after WWII. Originally intended to be named the USS Crown Point, it was renamed in memory of the Battle of Leyte Gulf. Leyte was commissioned on April 11, 1946.

Her Korean cruise, as a part of Navy Task Force 77, lasted from October 9, 1950 through January 19, 1951, during which her crew earned two battle stars. On board, she carried F9F Panthers, F4U Corsairs and AD-1 Skyraiders. 

One of the Corsair squadrons on board the Leyte was VFA-32, the "Fighting Swordsmen" (they are still active today, flying F/A-18 Hornets, most recently from the USS Harry S. Truman), and one of the pilots from this squadron was the Navy's first African-American Naval Aviator, Ensign Jesse L. Brown. 

Corsairs and Skyraiders on the Leyte. One of these Corsairs was likely Jesse
L. Brown's.
About three weeks after our photo was taken, Brown, call-sign "Iroquois 13", was part of a six-ship element flying a close air support mission in support of Marines of the US X Corps fighting during the crucial Battle of Chosin Reservoir, and was hit by Communist Chinese ground fire. He was forced to put his Corsair down in a remote, snow-covered area, and while the aircraft broke up, Brown survived the landing. His wingman, Lt.(JG) Thomas J. Hudner, Jr. saw that he was alive but pinned in (some sources say under) the burning wreckage of the Corsair, so Hudner deliberately crash-landed near-by in order to rescue his fellow flyer. A rescue helicopter soon arrived, but the rescue crew, working with Hudner, were unable to free Brown. Approaching darkness forced the helicopter crew to have to return to base with Hudner, and leaving Brown behind. Brown died that night, of a combination of his injuries and exposure to the extreme cold. In order to prevent Brown's body from falling into Chinese hands, Navy pilots bombed the wreck site with napalm two days later, while reciting the Lord's Prayer over the radio.

Jesse L. Brown was the first Navy officer killed in the Korean conflict. He was posthumously awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross, the Air Medal and a Purple Heart. For his efforts in trying to rescue his fellow Naval Aviator, Hudner was awarded the Medal of Honor.

Another photo from this same fly-over of the Leyte was used in an article in the October 1951 edition of the official Navy magazine Naval Aviation News. It can be seen here, scroll down to page 15.

1 comment:

  1. Another fascinating post sir! Your blog has quickly taken it's place among my favorite internet destinations. Bravo and please continue.