New exhibition honors a Hattiesburg hero

By Colleen Donovan - bio | email

HATTIESBURG, MS. (WDAM) - "A Pilot Lights the Way" is making it's debut at Hattiesburg's African American Military History Museum this January. It pays tribute to Hub City native Jesse LeRoy Brown and other African American Naval Aviators through a variety of materials.

Rick Taylor is the Executive Director of the Hattiesburg Convention Commission, which operates the African American Military History Museum.

"Jesse served during the Korean War and ultimately lost his life during that war. The exhibition we have chronicles not only through video his story but also we have artifacts of his training, his aviation training," said Taylor.

In 1948 Brown became this country's first African American Naval Aviator serving as a pilot with Fighter Squadron 32 in the Korean War. At 24 years old, he lost his life during combat becoming the first African American soldier to die in that war. Brown received the Air Medal along with other honors, and was posthumously awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross.

According to Taylor, "What we have are a lot of artifacts that bring back to mind what a great hero, what a national hero Jesse Brown was and how we should be really not only thankful for his service, but proud of him for paving the way for African Americans in aviation in the military."

Another compelling feature of the exhibit is the story of Thomas Hudner, Brown's wing mate, who crashed his own plane in an attempt to save Brown's life. Hudner survived the crash and received the Congressional Medal of Honor for extraordinary heroism.

"A Pilot Lights the Way" is on display at the museum through February.

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