Three years ago, author Adam Makos rose to fame with his astonishing, true tale of heroism and human compassion in the midst of deadly conflict in the book A Higher Call. Adam Makos deftly retold the almost mythical WWII story about the crew of a crippled American Flying Fortress, alone and defenseless, and the young German fighter pilot who chose not to destroy, but rather escort them to friendly skies instead. Perhaps the deepest drama in the book centered on how the pilots of the two aircraft finally found one another again, decades later, for a moment of true healing. The book touched everyone who read it; reaching far beyond the normal audience for aviation-themed books into the greater public and the New York Times best sellers list. Now Adam Makos has set his pen to recount another true, wartime tale with as deep and human a story as we found in A Higher Call. His latest book is titled Devotion, and describes the bond between two F4U Corsair pilots, on a fateful, frozen day during the Korean War, that stays current, even to this day. WarbirdsNews is happy to present a review by Colin D. Heaton of this marvelous book.
On December 4th, 1950, the Battle of the Chosin Reservoir was raging, a Marine Division was encircled, and legendary F4U Corsair pilots Tom Hudner and Jesse Brown flew into combat. Within hours, one of the duo would be shot down and the other would do something so remarkable it would lead the captain of his aircraft carrier, the USS Leyte, to say: “There has never been a finer act of unselfish heroism in military history.”
The primary subjects of Devotion, Hudner and Brown, were as opposite in their social strata, and backgrounds as one could imagine in the segregated America of 1950. Hudner, who hailed from a privileged northeastern background, decided not to follow in the family tradition of attending prestigious Harvard University. He instead selected the U.S. Naval Academy at Annapolis and pursued a career as a naval aviator.
Juxtaposed to Hudner’s opportunities, Jesse Brown was a black man, one of six children born to a sharecropping family living in crushing poverty in segregated Mississippi. With the assistance of well-meaning friends, family, and strangers, Jesse overcame countless obstacles to become the navy’s first black carrier pilot at a time when out of 45,000 naval officers, only five were black.
Had it not been for the desegregation of the military by President Harry S. Truman’s 1948 executive order, Tom and Jesse would never have met, let alone become comrades and friends. Tom’s obvious acceptance of others, and his vociferous defense of Jesse stemmed from his childhood when he hated bullies and defended those who were under attack. Devotion succeeds in conveying the basis for Tom and Jesse’s burgeoning friendship: in the military, there is no “black” or “white’—the uniform is the great equalizer.
Devotion takes the reader through the first deployment of Tom, Jesse, and their unit, Fighter Squadron 32. The reader enjoys some of the lighter moments of life in foreign ports of call, notably when Tom and Jesse cross paths with a young actress named Elizabeth Taylor and strike up a fleeting friendship. Then comes the war no one expected, in faraway Korea, where the fates of both men would become forever intertwined.
The inevitable combat that Tom and Jesse engage in is well-documented. The most dangerous role any fighter pilot can under take is that of close air support to forces on the ground, and it was this role that Tom and Jesse assumed and became masters of their trade. Like his previous book A Higher Call, Makos brings the reader into the environment of combat flying and shows the strain that such endeavors place upon our heroes, leading up to their ill-fated mission when both would be called to make unthinkable sacrifices.
I won’t reveal the outcome of the nail-biting drama of the story’s climactic moment, but suffice to say, it resonates as powerfully as the moment in Makos’ A Higher Call, when German pilot Franz Stigler lifts his finger from the trigger to spare Charlie Brown’s B-17. In the aftermath of that ill-fated mission, the reader will witness Hudner’s initial trepidation to receive the Medal of Honor, his eventual acceptance of that role, and his commitment to a new, personal mission that would chart the rest of his life.
Devotion is more than a good read, it’s a body of work with a richness rarely provided in military biographies. Makos continues his tradition of hardnosed research for this dynamic story, utilizing information gathered from surviving pilots and family members and location visits to the battlefields of the Korean War, including a rare trip into North Korea, in his desire to “get it right” as a historian. The blend of facts along with the human interest drama makes this book all the more enjoyable. In particular, Makos’ interview with Hudner is perhaps the greatest piece of living history to be seen in recent years.
In summary, Devotion is a book that should be read by every American, white or back, old or young. In our recent environment of racial tension and uncertainty, such a story is not only timely, it is essential in remembering that we Americans can each serve a higher purpose to keeping our nation free. Tom Hudner and Jesse Brown fought for that belief and gave us a legacy worth celebrating. Now it is our time, and our duty. Let us honor them.
WarbirdsNews wishes to express our thanks to Colin D. Heaton for his review of Devotion, and to the Commemorative Air Force for allowing us to reprint it here. We too believe Devotion is a story which needs to reach a massive audience. It is a compelling story of deep humanity which reaches far beyond the bravery of heroic acts in wartime, and can’t fail to resonate with any but the hardest of hearts.