African American Military History Museum

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Jesse LeRoy Brown, a Hattiesburg Native and Military Hero

Jesse LeRoy Brown led a life full of firsts, carving the way for African American men and women to reach new heights years after his life and heroic death. He proved that dreams can be captured, regardless of circumstances, rules, and even race.

As a young Mississippi boy, Jesse always dreamed of flying a plane. He was a smart young man, having made good grades in the segregated Eureka High School of Downtown Hattiesburg, Mississippi. He went on to study engineering at Ohio State University, as one of the first African American students accepted to the institution. Taking a chance on his dreams, Jesse applied and was accepted to the Navy Pre-Flight School in 1946.

As the most notable first of his life, Jesse earned his wings in 1948 as the first African American Naval Pilot and was assigned to serve on the aircraft carrier Leyte during fleet maneuvers in the Caribbean. He was commissioned an ensign by the Navy and joined Fighter Squadron 32 in January of 1949, which joined the Fast Carrier Task Force 77 to serve the United Nations Forces in Korea.

Overcoming obstacles and achieving success was not foreign to Jesse. Instead, he was driven by challenges and determined to make much of his life. As a pilot, Ensign Brown became a section leader who received the Air Medal for daring attacks against enemy lines of communication, transportation, facilities, military installations, and troop concentrations at Wonsan, Chonjin, Songjin, and Sinanju. While aboard the carrier USS. Leyte, Jesse flew a total of 19 combat missions. His commanding offer, Captain Thomas Sisson of Winona, Mississippi, called Brown, “one of the best pilots of the air group.” He was respected by his peers and admired by all who knew him.

Another first came during his 20th mission – Jesse’s plane was hit by enemy gunfire. While he survived the crash, Jesse was trapped in the cockpit, unable to release himself from the burning wreckage. On December 4, 1950, Jesse Brown became the first African American to lose his life in combat during the Korean War. Consequently, Jesse was posthumously awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for his exceptional courage, airmanship, and devotion to duty in the face of great danger.

As a testament to Jesse’s great impact on his fellow wing mates, Captain (then-Lieutenant junior grade) Thomas J. Hudner crashed his plane alongside Jesse’s in a brave effort to save his friend. Hudner received the Congressional Medal of Honor for extraordinary heroism.

In citation from the Secretary of the Navy, it is stated that “by his unfaltering determination, personal valor, and gallant devotion to duty in the face of hazardous flying conditions, Ensign Brown reflected great credit upon himself and upheld the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service.” What an honor to have at the young, yet courageous age of 24.

In a tribute to Jesse on November 22, 1993 from the Honorary Gene Taylor, former Mississippi Congressman, it is said that the story of Jesse Brown should survive forever. “In 1948 [Jesse L. Brown] accomplished a goal that had never been accomplished by an African American before him. As an aviator and as an officer, he made tremendous strides in the U.S. Armed Forces and saved innumerable lives. We must never forget his unselfish acts of courage.”

After 43 years, Michael Gregory, a Marine who was fighting around the Chosin Reservoir when Jesse offered air support, stated that “Jesse L. Brown died for us, the survivors.”

In 1973, the U.S. Navy named a ship in his honor. The USS Jesse L. Brown served for more than twenty years and was decommissioned in 1994. Today, Jesse continues to be honored for his bravery and his legacy. The USS Jesse L. Brown’s 80-pound bell was sent to the Forrest County Board of Supervisors, and placed on display in the Federal Tax Building in Downtown Hattiesburg, where it currently remains.

Hattiesburg is a special place in the life of Jesse L. Brown. As his first city, it is one filled with honor and respect for this hometown hero. Jesse’s mother, Daisy P. Thorne, and daughter, Pamela Knight, still reside in Hattiesburg. Together, they continue his legacy in the place where it all began.

Throughout the months of January and February, Jesse L. Brown will be honored through an exhibition in his honor at the African American Military History Museum in Hattiesburg. A Pilot Lights the Way exhibition will tribute Jesse L. Brown and Blacks in Aviation through a collection of art, photographs, artifacts, literature, and oral accounts.
A Pilot Lights the Way has been exhibited in several locations throughout Florida, but will be making its debut in Mississippi. Jesse’s family is looking forward to seeing the exhibit in Hattiesburg and are excited about remembering his life together in their hometown. “I will always be proud of him,” said Knight. “As his family, we are honored because of all the sacrifices and contributions he has made, and the honor that he has brought to our family. Displays like the one in Hattiesburg always give my children and me a sense of accomplishment. We continually strive to make him just as proud as he’s made us.”

The African American Military History Museum is a facility of the Hattiesburg Convention Commission. It is located within the Historic USO Club at 305 E. Sixth Street in Downtown Hattiesburg. Open Tuesday through Saturday 10am-4pm, the Museum offers free admission for all guests.  For more information on A Pilot Lights the Way exhibit or the African American Military History Museum, visit www.HattiesburgUSO.com or call 601.450.1942.

Exhibit Honoring Jesse LeRoy Brown on Display in Hattiesburg

Hattiesburg – A Pilot Lights The Way: A Tribute to Jesse LeRoy Brown and Blacks in Aviation exhibit will be on display in the African American Military History Museum through the months of January and February. The public is invited to an Opening Reception on Thursday, January 13 at 6pm in the Museum.

Brown is a Hattiesburg hometown hero, having served courageously in the United States Navy. In 1948 he became America’s first African American Naval Aviator and served as a pilot of Fighter Squadron 32 during the Korean War. At the young age of 24, Brown lost his life during combat, becoming the first African American soldier to die during the Korean War. Along with receiving the Air Medal for daring wartime attacks, Brown was also posthumously awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for his exceptional courage, airmanship, and devotion to duty in the face of great danger.

In 1973, the U.S. Navy named a ship in his honor. The USS Jesse L. Brown served for more than twenty years and was decommissioned in 1994. The USS Jesse L. Brown’s 80-pound bell was sent to the Forrest County Board of Supervisors, and placed on display in the Federal Tax Building in Downtown Hattiesburg, where it currently remains.

A Pilot Lights the Way exhibition will pay tribute to Brown and other African American Naval Aviators through a collection of art, photographs, artifacts, literature, and oral accounts. A Pilot Lights the Way has been exhibited in several locations throughout Florida, but will be making its debut in Mississippi with Thursday’s opening event.

Brown’s widow, Daisy P. Thorne, and daughter, Pamela Knight, still live in Hattiesburg and are excited about honoring his life and death in their hometown.

“I will always be proud of him,” said Knight. “As his family, we are honored because of all the sacrifices and contributions he has made, and the honor that he has brought to our family. Displays like the one in Hattiesburg always give my children and me a sense of accomplishment. We continually strive to make him just as proud as he’s made us.”

The African American Military History Museum is located within the Historic USO Club at 305 E. Sixth Street, and is a part of the revitalization of the Historic Mobile Street district near Downtown Hattiesburg. Open Tuesday through Saturday 10am-4pm, the Museum offers free admission for all guests.

The USO Club opened on March 22, 1942 and was constructed by community volunteers who invested more than 40,000 hours in the project. It is currently the only surviving USO built exclusively for African American soldiers and in 2003 was placed on the National Register of Historic Places. More than 150 years of African American military history is on display in the Museum.

The African American Military History Museum is a Hattiesburg Convention Commission Facility. Since 1991, the Hattiesburg Convention Commission, a tourism facility management authority, has been developing and operating tourism-related facilities for the Hattiesburg area. For more information on A Pilot Lights the Way or the African American Military History Museum, visit www.HattiesburgUSO.com or call 601.450.1942.

Hattiesburg African American Military History Museum to Honor Gold Star Mothers Friday

African American Military History Museum

HATTIESBURG – The African American Military History Museum will recognize three Hattiesburg area Gold Star Mothers with a ceremony and dedication on Friday, September 24th at 11a.m. at the Museum’s Memorial Garden.

The Museum will pay special tribute to Annie Lamar, mother of Cpl. Melvin Lamar, who was lost in the Vietnam War.   DeEster Burkett, mother of Spc.4 Elijah Burkett, who also was lost in Vietnam, and Patricia Davis, mother of Sgt. Anthony Magee who died during service this past May, will also be honored.

Jean Alice McDavid, Gold Star Mother and representative from the Southern Region’s Gold Star Mothers Association, will be the keynote speaker, and the ceremony will culminate with a bench dedication in the Museum’s Memorial Garden for each Hattiesburg mother and her family.

The African American Military History Museum is a Hattiesburg Convention Commission Facility.  Since 1991, the Hattiesburg Convention Commission has been developing, operating and promoting tourism-related facilities for the Hattiesburg area.  For more information, visit www.HattiesburgUSO.com, or call 601.268.3220