BATH, Maine — A former Naval aviator was honored at Bath Iron Works on Saturday during the christening of an Arleigh Burke-class destroyer bearing his name.
During a search-and-destroy mission in Korea’s Chosin Reservoir 70 years ago, Thomas Hudner Jr., 92 — the last surviving Korean War Medal of Honor recipient from the U.S. Navy — landed his plane on a mountainside in an attempt to rescue an injured fellow pilot, Jesse L. Brown, the first African-American pilot in the Navy.
Hudner and Brown were flying what was supposed to be a three-hour search-and-destroy mission in the Chosin Reservoir that day when they were outnumbered about 10-to-1.
Initially Hudner and his squadron mates thought the pilot had been killed. Then they noticed Brown waving, but his right leg was pinned by the cockpit and the plane was smoking, so they sent a mayday signal.
Hudner crash-landed his plane within 100 yards of Brown’s, and tried, in vain, to free the trapped pilot. But they couldn’t put out the fire or free Brown’s leg, and the weather was worsening.
For his efforts to save Brown, Hudner was awarded the Medal of Honor by President Harry Truman on April 13, 1951.
Hudner was honored Saturday at the christening of the U.S. Navy’s newest guided-missile destroyer — the future USS Thomas Hudner — at Bath Iron Works.
U.S. Sens. Susan Collins and Angus King and Reps. Chellie Pingree and Bruce Poliquin all spoke at the christening.
Georgea F. Hudner, wife of the Thomas Hudner, along with Barbara Joan Miller, wife of Vice Admiral Michael Miller, were the ship’s sponsors and officially christened the ship by breaking bottles of sparkling wine against its bow.
Also attending the ceremony were former Massachusetts Sen. Scott Brown, a delegation from the Battleship Cove museum, two other Medal of Honor winners and several generals and admirals.
“Today we are in the presence of true bravery, Capt. Thomas Hudner,” King said.
The USS Hudner will be completed in Bath and then turned over the Navy personnel. Thirty-five members of the Hudner crew attended the christening. The crew will oversee the completion of the craft and take it on sea trials within a year, an official said.
Then the boat will join the 66 other Arleigh Burke class destroyers that are a part of the U.S. fleet.
It will do the same work Thomas Hudner Jr. did during his 30-year Navy career, said Vice Admiral James G. Foggo III, the director of Navy staff: the USS Thomas Hudner will rush toward trouble.
“I guarantee,” Foggo said, “the USS Thomas Hudner will sail swiftly into harm’s way.”
The keel for Thomas Hudner was laid on Nov. 16, 2015.
Nine protesters ranging in age from 37 to 92 were arrested Saturday morning at the christening, according to local police.
Jason Rawn, 43, of Lincolnville; Mark Roman, no age given, of Solon; Bruce Gagnon, 64, of Bath; Russell Wray, 61, of Hancock; Natalyn Mayers, 71, of Whitefield; Robert Dale, 92, of Brunswick; Michael Tork, 69, of Falmouth, Massachusetts; Jessica Stewart, 37, of Bass Harbor; and Lisa Savage, 60, of Solon were charged with criminal trespassing, a Class E crime, after they attempted to attend the event at 10 a.m., according to a news release issued by Bath police.
If convicted, each faces up to six months in jail and a fine of up to $1,000.
BDN writers Beth Brogan and Judy Harrison and Kevin P. O’Connor of The Herald News contributed to this report.