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Staff Pick: Devotion by Adam Makos

How far would you go to help a friend? Have you ever had a friend that was so close to you that you would put your own life on the line to save theirs? Most of us will never have to make that kind of decision. Devotion by Adam Makos is about two comrades-in-arms whose bond was so strong that even the worst adversity couldn’t pull them apart. Equal parts inspiring and tragic; their story is one of the most compelling I’ve listened to this year.

"Ensign Jesse L. Brown" by Official U.S. Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives. - Photo #: 80-G-708014 from [1]. Licensed under Public Domain via Commons - https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Ensign_Jesse_L._Brown.jpg#/media/File:Ensign_Jesse_L._Brown.jpg

Ensign Jesse L. Brown

Ensign Jesse L. Brown and Lieutenant Thomas “Tom” Hudner couldn’t have been more different. Jesse Brown, an African American sharecropper’s son, had a hard childhood. Growing up in poverty, he also had to deal with segregation and prejudice in post-World War II Mississippi. Brown overcame these obstacles through hard work and dedication, finishing as the salutatorian in his class and graduating from Ohio State and the Naval ROTC officers training program. Tom Hudner, on the other hand, came from a wealthy New England family, and even turned down admission to Harvard University to attend the United States Naval Academy. One man came from the country, and the other from country clubs, but both men loved flying. It was Naval Aviation that would bring these two very different men together as brothers-in-arms.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thomas_J._Hudner,_Jr.#/media/File:Thomas_J_Hudner_1950.jpg

Lieutenant Thomas J. Hudner

After graduating college and undergoing rigorous training, Jesse Brown became the first African American Naval Aviator in the United States Navy. Brown flew with Tom Hudner in an attack squadron based aboard the USS Leyte, training in the Mediterranean before the outbreak of the Korean War. When the conflict erupted, the Leyte steamed halfway across the world to Korea, and Brown and Hudner’s squadron began engaged in bombing missions in North Korea in support of UN forces on the ground, primarily US Marines.

"Vought F4U Corsair (USMC)" by Gerry Metzler - http://www.flickr.com/photos/flyguy71/7427977930/sizes/l/in/photostream/. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 via Commons - https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Vought_F4U_Corsair_(USMC).jpg#/media/File:Vought_F4U_Corsair_(USMC).jpg

An F4U Corsair, similar to the aircraft flown by Jesse L. Brown and Tom Hudner

During a mission to support Marines fighting in the infamous Battle of Chosin Reservoir, Jesse Brown’s aircraft was hit by ground fire and began to lose fuel. The F4U Corsair Brown was flying didn’t have an ejector seat – his only option was to attempt a crash landing before completely losing control. Upon landing, Brown’s body was pinned in his aircraft, making escape impossible without help. Tom Hudner, Brown’s wingman, circled above the wrecked aircraft along with their squadron-mates, radioing for assistance and making sure the area was clear of hostile forces. When it was clear that Brown could not rescue himself from his aircraft, Hudner intentionally crashed his own Corsair and ran to Brown’s side to help. He wouldn’t fly away to safety while his wingman was defenseless on the ground. Devotion is at its finest when depicting Tom Hudner’s courageous rescue attempt. As a listener, you feel like you were on the barren, snowy Korean mountain alongside Jesse Brown and Tom Hudner.

I won’t spoil the ending of Devotion, but I think the decorations of both men speak for themselves. Tom Hudner received the Medal of Honor for his actions, the highest honor given out by the military. Ensign Jesse L. Brown received the Distinguished Flying Cross, and the Navy later named the frigate U.S.S. Jesse L Brown (FF-1089) in his honor. When the ship was commissioned in 1973, Tom Hudner was there to give the dedication speech. I truly enjoyed Devotion because it’s not a story about war with lines drawn across maps and long asides about global politics. It’s a story about two men who became friends through shared experiences and fought side-by-side despite so many personal differences. I hope you’ll find their devotion to each other as powerful as I did.