A search for the remains of the Navy's first black pilot, Ensign Jesse Brown, who died in the Korean War, will be led by retired Navy Capt. Thomas Hudner who will travel to North Korea to begin the search.
Brown died in December 1950 when his plane crashed in the cold, mountainous Chosin region of what is now North Korea, The Associated Press reported.
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The effort to find the first African-American pilot remains has become a personal mission for Hudner, who as a lieutenant tried but could not save him before he was rescued. Hudner said he promised Brown that he would return for him.
Hudner, 88, will arrive in Pyongyang Saturday with the goal of reaching the Chosin region near the Jangjin Reservoir. He will be accompanied by soldiers from the Korean People's Army.
"People who didn't know him gave him a hard time just because he was black," Hudner, the white son of a New England grocery store owner, told the Associated Press. He said by the time Brown died, he had won the admiration of those fighting alongside him.
"The squadron, almost to a man, protected him any way they could," Hudner said. "He was a friend who, I'd say, was beloved by almost everybody who knew him. A very special person."
Hudner was awarded the Medal of Honor, the U.S. military's highest award for trying to save Brown while Brown posthumously received the Purple Heart and the Distinguished Flying Cross.
The Battle of the Chosin Reservoir lasted 17 days, killing 6,000 Americans and thousands more in the bitter cold. Brown and many others who died in the battle are among more than 7,910 Americans who are listed as still missing in action.
The unusual expedition was brokered by Chayon Kim, a South Korean-born U.S. citizen who had been involved in the campaign to build a Korean War Memorial in Washington, and who took the Harlem Globetrotters and former NBA star Dennis Rodman to North Korea earlier this year.
Hudner told the Associated Press that with the latest maps and coordinates, his team will excavate a remote area controlled by the North Korean military in hopes to find the remains.
The Korean War was fought between the northern forces supported by the Soviet Union and the southern forces helped by American soldiers. The war ended in 1953 after a stalemate with five million soldiers and civilians killed.
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