One of my favorite writers is a fella by the name of Adam Makos. Ever since Adam was a teenager, he’s dedicated his life to interviewing Greatest Generation veterans and telling their stories. I had him on the podcast last year to discuss his bestselling book, A Higher Call, which tells the incredible story of how one of Germany’s top aces escorted a badly damaged U.S. bomber back to Allied territory during WWII and how the two men piloting those planes were able to meet each other as old men and become friends.
Well, Adam is back with another book about an unbelievable story that he’s come across during his interviewing and writing. This one took place in the Korean War. Devotion: An Epic Story of Heroism, Friendship, and Sacrifice tells the true tale of two men from completely different worlds: one, the black son of Southern sharecroppers; the other, a white man from a rich New England family. During the course of their service as naval fighter pilots the two men became good friends. That friendship is put to the test when one of them is shot down on a remote North Korean mountain during the Battle of the Chosin Reservoir. Devotion asks: How far would you go to save a friend?
- Why the Korean War gets overlooked in popular culture
- The story of how Jesse Brown became the first black naval aviator
- How Jesse Brown and Tom Hudner, two men from very different backgrounds, became good friends
- The Battle of the Chosin Reservoir where 10,000 U.S. Marines faced two hundred thousand Chinese fighters
- The unbelievable action Tom took to try to save his friend Jesse on a remote North Korean mountain
- Why Adam is so passionate about telling the stories of soldiers from the Greatest Generation
- How reading the stories like those of Tom and Jesse are an antidote to our current culture’s narcissism
- And much more!
Get this book. When you’re done reading it, you’ll feel completely edified. The way Adam describes the battle scenes will leave you sitting on the edge of your seat like you’re watching a big-budget war movie. But what really makes this book such a great read is the heart in it. By the end, you really feel like you know the men and women in it and you’ll be inspired to follow their example of sacrifice, loyalty, and devotion. Pick up Devotion on Amazon today.
Listen to the Podcast! (And don’t forget to leave us a review!)
Brett McKay: Brett McKay here. Welcome to another edition of the Art of Manliness Podcast. One of my favorite writers is a guy by the name of Adam Makos. He’s a young guy, in his 30s like me, but since he was a teenager, him and his brother have published this magazine that’s been dedicated to telling the stories of WWII veterans in particular. Since then it’s grown into other wars as well, Korea and Vietnam War, etc. Adam has come across some amazing stories with his interviews he’s done with these veterans. Last year he published a book called “A Higher Call.” Had him on the podcast about it. Incredible story about this German fighter pilot who escorts a damaged US bomber back to allied territory during WWII. After this chance encounter, the two men, as old men, are able to meet each other, and they become friends. A really incredible story. If you haven’t already, go check that podcast out and go get the book, “A Higher Call.”
Adam’s got a new book out, and it’s really good. This time instead of looking at WWII, he takes a look at a story he found from the Korean War. The book is called “”Devotion.” It’s about two men from completely different worlds. One is a black son of southern sharecropper. The other is a young guy from Connecticut, blue-blooded, supposed to go to Harvard, decided he’d enlist in the military instead. These two guys become fast friends. That friendship is put to the test when his plane goes down on a remote mountain in North Korean, and the other one goes after him.
We’re going to get in the details of the story because it’s just incredible what happens. That’s what we’re going to talk about in the book today, his new book, “Devotion.” We’re also going to discuss why Adam thinks it’s so important, why he’s so dedicated, and why he’s dedicated his life and his career to telling and sharing these stories of these WWII and Korean War veterans and also the other veterans who have served in other wars and the lessons we can learn from them to be better men. Great podcast, great book. Without further ado, Adam Makos and “Devotion.” Adam Makos, welcome to the show.
Adam Makos: Thanks Brett, good to be with you.
Brett McKay: Great to have you back. You were on our podcast, I guess, last year, right?
Adam Makos: Yeah, time is flying.
Brett McKay: Time is flying. You’re known to be a WWII guy. That’s been your thing, but your latest book is about a story that’s unbelievable that came out of the Korean War. Well, before we get to the story, let’s give some backdrop for our listeners about the Korean War because it’s called the “Forgotten War.” People forget that we fought this war in Korea. Why is it that we forgot about this war that happened right after WWII?
Adam Makos: Well, Brett, I think we Americans like a victory, a win. We’re not ones for a tie, and I think a lot of people see the Korean War as a tie. It ended in a stalemate on the 38th parallel. That stalemate continues to this day. The war never really officially ended. We didn’t have the same kind of victory parades. You can’t even point to Korean War books or movies. I mean the last big movie was probably “Pork Chop Hill” starring Gregory Peck back in 1959. It’s remained forgotten. I think, in the eyes of the American public, it lacks the romance, I use the word lightly, of, say, jumping into Normandy on D-Day and liberating French villages. It was an ugly war. I mean it was fought in the snow and the cold. It was fought in the mud and the hills. But the sacrifices were just the heavy.
Brett McKay: Who was involved in it? Because there were a lot of players. I learned a lot about the Korean War. Obviously you had communists in Korea but also the Chinese and Russians were involved as well?
Adam Makos: Yeah. It’s an incredible little fact. I had to really teach myself about this war, because going into this book, I didn’t know much about it. I mean when you tell the average American that we fought the Chinese in the Korean War, it’s like a slap across the face. It’s hard to believe. It was originally the North Koreans invading the South, but the North Koreans were armed with Soviet tanks and Soviet guns. In fact Soviet troops drew up the battle plans for the invasion of the South, so Stalin had his hand in that. He said, “Okay, do this,” and Kim Il-sung did.
At the same time, the Chinese in 1950 surprised us. Nobody saw their intervention coming. They were saber-rattling. What happened was the war was just about over. The United States jumped in, the English, the UN, and we drove the North Koreans all the way to the edge of their border. We were about to kick them over the Chinese border, win the war, and then we would have had that big WWII-like victory. Instead, under darkness, hundreds of thousands of Chinese troops snuck into North Korea, and they turned the tide of the war. They prolonged the war by three years and everything changed overnight. Suddenly we were at war with China, North Korea, and, in a way, the Soviet Union.
Brett McKay: I thought you made this interesting point at the very beginning of the book where you said that we often forget the greatest generation fought two wars. It really blew my mind when I read that, but it was so obvious that you’re right. We always see the ‘Greatest Generation’ as WWII, but a lot of these guys that fought in WWII, also fought in Korea.
Adam Makos: Yeah. They fought using the same aircraft, so in the case of “Devotion” we follow a Navy fighter squadron. Well, they were flying Corsair fighters built during WWII. They were shooting .50 caliber bullets. They were dropping the same bombs. Our Marines on the ground, who we follow in this book, they wearing the same uniforms from WWII. It literally was the Greatest Generation being called back to war.
Brett McKay: Let’s get to the crux of the story because it is unbelievable. It’s about two individuals from two completely separate walks of life who develop a friendship, and one of them goes to help him. How did you discover this story about this crash-landing rescue on a mountain on a pasture in the middle of Korea? Where did you find this story?
Adam Makos: It was a legend in military circles, what Tom Hudner, the hero of the story, did that day, and so his reputation preceded him. I was working for a small magazine at the time, a military history magazine that my brother and best friend and I publish. I was in DC ready to leave the hotel, and I saw Tom Hudner, the Medal of Honor recipient sitting across the way reading his newspaper waiting for his car. I went over to him, and I asked him if I could tell the story, if I could interview him. I thought, ah, I’ll just do a little magazine article.
Well, he gave me his business card, and he handed me the keys to this incredible tale. I soon determined this is too good for a magazine. This needs to be a book. The reason I think no one else had ever tried to tell this as a book is simply partially because of the nature of the ‘Forgotten War,’ and, as we’ll discuss, the story, it doesn’t have that happy ending that everybody wants where it’s like the movies we watch where everything ends in either a wedding or a dance-off. This doesn’t end that way, but it’s still just as powerful.
Brett McKay: So Tom Hudner, he was the hero. He’s this man who crash-landed a plane to save his fellow comrade. Let’s talk about the man that needed the helping, Jesse Brown. Tell us about him. I guess he was the first black aviator in US Navy history.
Adam Makos: He was. He was the first confirmed known black fighter pilot, carrier pilot, pilot in general. His story is so incredible. He came so far. He grew up in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, in the Deep South in the years just before WWII. He came from nothing. He used to work in the fields barefoot. He’d go home to a shack at night with holes in the roof that leaked when it rained. Yet, he had a dream to fly for his country, so he wanted to serve a country that wouldn’t even serve him in a bar if he walked into it, not because of his age but because of his skin color. He said, “I want to be a Naval aviator.”
Now everybody who heard this laughed at him, the other farm hands. They would say, “Black people can’t ride in an airplane, let alone fly an airplane, let alone fly an airplane for the United States Navy,” because that was the most elite flying corps there was. The Tuskegee Airmen broke through during WWII and they, in classes in upwards of a hundred men at once, became pilots, but the Navy never cracked until Jesse Brown came along. He, through his character, through his personality … everybody loved this guy, and he broke through and became the first black pilot where so many others had failed.
Brett McKay: Can you tell us a little bit about Tom’s personality because this is amazing? These are two guys who became friends. You have Jesse the son of a sharecropper, Tom is white, but what was his background?
Adam Makos: I always say they’re men from different worlds, because Tom was from New England, and he was from the country club scene. His father and grandfather had run a very successful business, grocery stores, and they prospered during the Great Depression. Food was that one commodity everybody needed, so they had the Hudner Markets. Tom was supposed to go to Harvard like his father. He was supposed to inherit the family business, and he was supposed to have a comfortable life. Instead, he, like so many others, said I want to serve my country. This was around the time of WWII, so he volunteered to essentially join the Navy, went to the Naval Academy, and he graduated just a little too late to fight in the war. The war had ended. He became a fighter pilot. This is a 1%-er who becomes a fighter pilot. You have Jesse who is a patriot and wants to serve a country that doesn’t really love him, and you have Tom who throws away the silver spoon to fly for the Navy.
Brett McKay: How do these guys become friends?
Adam Makos: By chance, by fate, they were assigned to the same fighter squadron, Fighter Squadron 32 up in Quonset Point, Rhode Island. When they went for their first flight together, it was very awkward at first. Because when they met in the locker room, they were suiting up, Jesse came over to Tom, and Tom greeted him and stuck out his hand to shake Jesse’s. Jesse looked down at Tom’s hand for a minute in disbelief, and then finally shook his hand. Later on that day he explained to Tom that he had become accustomed not to extending himself that way, because back in flight training he would go up to a white cadet or a white instructor and he’d say, “Hi, I’m Jesse Brown.” He’d stick out his hand and the other person would keep theirs at their side. He’d been left hanging so many times it started to shape his personality. Tom said, “You’re never going to have to worry about that with me,” so that day a friendship was born.
Brett McKay: It seems like from what I read in the book that there really wasn’t any problems with integrating Jesse into the squadron. The problems that he had was whenever they were interacting with people who weren’t a part of the squadron.
Adam Makos: Exactly. There was this strange sort of Navy band of brothers. It existed because these men were all going to war together. I think there’s an interesting, I don’t know, I don’t want to say trend, but I’ve seen when black and white people work together, when they fight together, the racism disappears. Look at a football team in the NFL. Everybody’s on the same team. Everybody’s striving towards the same thing. It was that way in the Navy. The people on the ship respected Jesse. The squadron, they respected him. He didn’t expect racism. That was the funny thing. They always said Jesse Brown didn’t go looking for a racial problem. He was just there to do his job. As it so happened, no problem emerged.
Brett McKay: Let’s set up the situation of when Jesse crashes his plane, because this is phenomenal. I guess this is the big battle where, you said earlier, things changed overnight. We were whooping the North Koreans, but then this happened. What was this battle that preceded Jesse crashing his plane?
Adam Makos: It was called the Battle of Chosin Reservoir. It was fought in northeastern North Korea. You had the Army going up the west. You had the Marines going up the east. We were about to just wipe the North Koreans off the map, literally push them into China, and all these Chinese troops showed up one night and surrounded us. What happened in the west to the Army, they were routed completely. In the east, the 1st Marine Division, now these are the heroes of Guadalcanal and Peleliu just five years earlier, suddenly these 10,000 men were surrounded in a valley there at the Chosin Reservoir. We were facing the destruction of an entire Marine division. Back home, the papers were calling them the ‘Lost Legion.’ They were preparing the American people for the worst defeat in military history.
But the Marines had an advantage on their side. Not only did they have better weapons and better training, despite being outnumbered 100,000 against 10,000, so there were 10,000 of our boys surrounded, 10 to 1 were their odds, they had air power. The Chinese did not bring anti-aircraft guns. The Chinese did not bring fighter planes into the Korean War because they were there surreptitiously. They were volunteers, they called themselves, kind of like how you watch Putin send his Russian soldiers into the Ukraine. Well, they’re not Russian. They’re volunteers or they’re other nations. They have all these different terms. Well, the same way in the Korean War. So the Marines had air power, and that’s where Tom and Jesse came in to save the day and to tip the scales.
Brett McKay: Listen, can you talk about some of the Marines? Because not only do you talk about Jesse and Tom, but simultaneously you’re talking about what’s going on on the ground. There were some really phenomenal men on the ground who were doing extraordinary things to win this battle. Can you talk about a few of those Marines?
Adam Makos: Sure. In order to really appreciate Tom and Jesse’s story, I decided very early on when writing “Devotion,” we had to follow the guys on the ground. We found just two incredible Marines, one of whom, John Parkinson, was a young, gosh, 22 year old at the time of the battle, fighting in an icy creek, literally with their backs to the water as these Chinese human waves overwhelmed them. You see this desperate fighting in this book. We had to show the suffering of the men on the ground to appreciate who Tom and Jesse were fighting to protect.
The other Marine we follow, his name was Ed Cordera. Ed, a real life person, again, he lives up in Massachusetts these days, he was one of the few men captured at the Chosin Reservoir. We show what happens when Ed’s hilltop position is overrun. His buddies are knocked out or killed or routed. He wakes up the next morning a prisoner of the Chinese. We’re able to show you the cold of the Chosin Reservoir. It was negative 20 degrees in some spots. We’re able to show you the viciousness of it and the hopelessness, and yet we show you how the American spirit can prevail against all of that.
Brett McKay: I thought it was interesting when the fighting first started, the Marines were confused because they were hearing Tommy Guns, which were American guns, like guns the paratroopers used during WWII. How did that happen? How did the Chinese get American weapons in their hands?
Adam Makos: This was a very sad and tragic element to the Chosin Reservoir Battle. I wavered a little bit, Brett. I didn’t know if I should put this in the book because it sympathizes or humanizes the enemy. The Chinese soldiers we fought at the Chosin Reservoir were largely nationalists. Now during, of course, WWII, you had the communists and nationalists Chinese. They put aside their weapons and put aside their strive, and they fought the Japanese together. Well, the United States armed them. We supplied them. They were our buddies. They were our allies. As soon as the war ends, they go to war with each other. The nationalists get pushed out to Taiwan. The communists take over all of China. All of these nationalist soldiers that that captured in their civil war, well, what do they do? They suddenly have this battle going on in North Korea, so they send the former nationalists into these frozen conditions wearing basically tennis sneakers, without gloves, without food, without air support, and they send them there to die. Now they’re led by communist officers, and if a nationalists ran from a fight, they’d be mowed down. Literally, at the Chosin Reservoir our Marines were fighting men who five years earlier had been our allies.
Brett McKay: There was a scene in the book where one of the soldiers has an encounter with some Chinese nationalist soldiers, saying they’d fought with the Marines during WWII.
Adam Makos: Mm-hmm (affirmative). It’s one of the most remarkable things, and they shared a cigarette on the hilltop as they’re suffering in the cold together. It sounds like something a novelist would have created. It sounds like something a screenwriter would invent but it really happened. When Ed Cordera woke up and he was taken prisoner, he finds that the men who took him prisoner, yeah, they carried Tommy Guns for a reason. They were nationalists. They spoke English. They didn’t hate him. That’s really one of the conflicts the reader goes through in this book. You want the Americans to survive so desperately. You want them to escape this trap. You want Tom and Jesse to kill all the enemy. Then when you get to know the enemy, you say, my God, this is a lose/lose.
Brett McKay: Yeah. They were just thrown into it.
Adam Makos: Exactly.
Brett McKay: How does Jesse get shot down because the Chinese didn’t have anti-aircraft arsenal? What happened? How did he crash into the mountain?
Adam Makos: What happened, it was a December day, December 4 around 1:00pm or so when he and Tom and a flight of upwards of 10 Corsairs were ripping around the valleys, and they were looking for the enemy. See, the Chinese often hid during the day and they attacked at night to deny us our air power advantage. They were trying to find the enemy and kill them before nightfall came. The Chinese were known to do several things. One is when an airplane would come, they would sometimes crouch in a ball, and, from above, they would look like a series of boulders on the landscape. They were known to stay motionless even while being strafed. It’s absolutely almost super human. They would even hide in the snow, bury themselves.
That’s what happened to Jesse. He flew over an unseen group of Chinese soldiers hiding in the snow. All they would do is fire one volley all at once. They’d put up 30, 50, 100 bullets, and one of those bullets found the underside of Jesse’s aircraft. It punctured his oil tank, and before he knew it, his aircraft was going done. His engine was seizing up. The only spot they could find was basically a pasture high in the mountains, they always say a bowl-shaped valley, and he crashed on this high mountain pasture. It looks soft, it looks snow-covered, but beneath it was rock, and he was in a very violent, violent crash.
Brett McKay: So Tom had a choice to make. I guess the instructions they were given about if someone crashed, these were all the Naval pilots, that they weren’t supposed to go after them because two dead soldiers is worse than one. But Tom decided to take action. What did Tom decide to do?
Adam Makos: Well, Tom saw Jesse down there in his aircraft. Everybody was waiting for Jesse to get out. They were saying, “What are you waiting for?” It’s smoking. They’re calling him on his radio. He’s not responding. Suddenly they see his canopy open, and he’s waving at them. Now his aircraft, when he hit, it buckled at the nose almost … I don’t want to say 90 degrees rightward but very severe, maybe 50 or 60 degrees, and he was pinned inside by his right knee. It was crushed against the instrument panel. Jesse had taken off his helmet, he had taken off his gloves in his hurry to escape the aircraft before he realized he was pinned, so suddenly he has no communication because he dropped his helmet down below his feet. He’s stuck in an aircraft, and there’s smoke coming from the nose. There’s a 230-gallon fuel tank about five feet in front of him, and a fire is threatening to envelope the entire aircraft.
Tom is orbiting overhead along with, at that time, another four aircraft. He looks down, and he sees his friend. Now Jesse’s not just his friend, he knows Jesse has a wife, he knows Jesse had a two year old baby girl, and he’s about to burn alive on a North Korean mountain far from home. That’s when Tom simply radios the rest of the flight, “I’m going in.” The other men were stunned. They didn’t encourage him. They didn’t dissuade him. Some probably didn’t even know what he meant, but they knew as soon as they watched him. Tom made a pass over Jesse. He assessed the terrain. The next thing you know, he did this event that had never happened before. It has never happened since. He crashed landed a perfectly good aircraft right next to his friend on that North Korean mountain.
Brett McKay: Was he able to save Jesse? Did he get to Jesse before the plane exploded or anything like that?
Adam Makos: He did. As soon as he opened his canopy, the cold rushed in. His first thought was, “What the heck am I doing here?” Then he shook his head and woke up again, and he said, “Oh my God, I’ve got to get to Jesse.” He ran through the snow. He had hurt his back to some degree in the crash. It had been a hard landing, so Tom was in pain himself. When he got to the cockpit, Jesse said, “Tom, we have to find a way out of here.” Tom remembers being shocked at how calm Jesse was. Tom said, “He calmed me down.”
Suddenly Tom finds himself relaxed and said, “All right Jesse, let’s try something.” The first thing Tom did, he tried to pull Jesse out. He had to use one hand on Jesse’s shoulder, and the other hand he had to grip the canopy with. Pull as they might, Jesse was pushing, Tom was pulling, they couldn’t free him. He was pinned so badly. So Tom set about trying to do the next thing. He had to buy them some time. He went to the front of the aircraft, and he shoveled snow onto the fire and it abated. He then went back to the cockpit, and he saw that Jesse’s hands were freezing, his ears were freezing. Tom always carried a spare cap with him, so he pulled that cap down over Jesse’s head. Then he took the scarf from his own neck, and he wrapped Jesse’s hands. The ended up waiting there together. Waiting, hoping a rescue helicopter would come, hoping the Chinese soldiers wouldn’t beat the helicopter to it and put a bullet in both of their heads. As it was, time passed and the sun was setting, and Jesse’s life was slowly slipping away.
Brett McKay: What was the aftermath? Were they able to recover his body, or did Tom eventually just have to leave?
Adam Makos: It was very sad, Brett. Jesse in one of his last moments of consciousness, he said, “Tom, I need you to give a message to my wife.” He said, “Just tell Daisy how much I love her.” Tom said, “I’ll do that.” Tom knew Jesse was going to die. It ends tragically. When the helicopter comes, the pilot comes out and he says, “Is that Jesse Brown in the cockpit?” Tom said, “Yeah, it is,” and the helicopter pilot just cursed, because everyone who met Jesse just loved him. He and Tom then tried to use an ax to cut through the Corsair fuselage desperately trying to pull Jesse out one last time, and the ax just bounced off the aluminum. It wouldn’t cut through that frozen metal. The helicopter pilot then gave Tom a choice. He said, “Tom, you can stay here with Jesse and you’re going to freeze to death, or we have to go now because I can’t fly in the dark.” So Tom made this last promise to Jesse. Jesse had already slumped over. He had probably passed. Tom said, “Jesse we have to leave. We don’t have the tools to free you, but we’ll be back some day for you.” Tom left, and it was the hardest moment of his life.
Brett McKay: Yeah. When I read that it was just heartbreaking that he had to do that. What was the aftermath of this battle? You had this tremendous ground force Air Force operation going, the 1st Marine Division almost being wiped out. What happened?
Adam Makos: Well, the American spirit prevailed. In the end, thanks to the sacrifice of the pilots and men like Jesse, the Marines broke out of the Chinese trap and they marched to the sea. They were picked up on ships and taken down to South Korea. Essentially the 1st Marine Division escaped to fight another day, and they were back on the battle lines one month later as it was. Our guys were battered, but they weren’t broken, whereas the Chinese forces, they fought, most of them never went back into battle. They were decimated. The Marine Corps came out as survivors, and they consider the Chosin Reservoir to be one of their finest hours.
The aftermath for Tom? He expected to be court-martialed because, as you had said earlier, he had been warned, you do not destroy Navy property pulling some sort of stunt. You don’t risk two lives to try to save one. Instead, when he got back to his carrier, the captain of the ship who was from the Deep South, and everybody thought, oh, his father had been a proponent of segregation, well, Captain Sisson instead said, “Tom, what you did was the most wonderful thing to try to save Jesse.” He said, “There’s been no finer act of unselfish heroism in military history.” He put that out in a press release back to the United States, and he nominated Tom for the Medal of Honor. It is an award that Tom, several months later, was given by President Truman. He was summoned to Washington and awarded this. For Tom, although he earned the award, he felt he could still do more for Jesse’s legacy and Jesse’s family.
Brett McKay: What happened to Jesse’s family? He had a wife and two year old daughter. I mean I started crying when you wrote about how when, the family knew that Jesse was dead, the two year old daughter would hear a plane fly by and she’d start yelling, “Daddy, daddy, daddy.” God, that got me really … I’m getting choked up right now thinking about that. What happened to Jesse’s family?
Adam Makos: Brett, it’s a highly emotional story because you really love this guy and you follow his wife Daisy. See there’s something in “Devotion” for women and for men because, as I say in the beginning, this is an American story. That’s how I want it to be seen. It’s simply a story of America. So we see Jesse’s widow, she’s now a widow at age, oh, 23 or so, and she has to find the courage to go on.
The first challenge for her comes when they say, “Will you come to the White House?” Tom is about to get the Medal of Honor. Daisy’s this young black girl in Mississippi, and she’s being asked to come to the White House, to be essentially the only black person in this gathering. She’s never been to something so fancy. She’s never been to the Capital city. Yet she goes to represent Jesse. Part of the story is about how we watch her grow from Jesse’s influence and we watch Tom grow from Jesse’s influence. Everybody who knew Jesse became a better person because of him, and so there is this emotional moment.
Jesse had prepared Daisy for his death. He had said, “I may die. I’ve taken out an insurance policies to make sure you’re cared for,” and he said, “I want you to become a teacher.” He said, “Promise me you’ll go to school and become a teacher, because I don’t want to see you end up in someone’s kitchen.” Well, Daisy had every intention of doing that if it came to it, but then another tragic thing happened. Several weeks after Jesse’s death, his mother collapsed and just died. She had a stroke, so they say Jesse’s death killed his mother as well. They say she’s a victim of the Korean War.
Suddenly Daisy, who had these great plans to go to college and to carry on and care for their daughter, suddenly she has to care for Jesse’s father because he’s now devastated by the loss of his son and his wife. Daisy says, “I’m not going to college. I have to care for Mr. Brown.” Well, an incredible thing happens, Brett, Tom Hudner goes home to Fall River, and his hometown throws him a big parade. At the end, they present him with a check for $1,000 raised from all the citizens. They say, “Tom, this is for you. Go out and buy yourself a new car. Do something with this. Go on vacation.” Tom, the next day, he takes the check, he’s signs it over to Mrs. Daisy Brown, and he sends it down to Hattiesburg, Mississippi. It was the equivalent to about $9,000. With that money, Daisy ended up going to college. Tom Hudner essentially put Jesse’s widow through college.
Brett McKay: That’s amazing. You mentioned there that one of the last things that Tom said was, “I’m coming back for you.” He made good on that promise. He’s making good on it. Can you tell us about what’s happened recently, what Tom has been doing in order to make good on that promise?
Adam Makos: Sure. Not only has he worked the rest of his life to keep Jesse’s memory alive … He and Daisy stayed great friends by the way. After that day at the White House when they met and Tom gave Daisy Jesse’s last words, they stayed in touch. They did speeches together. They were friends up till Daisy’s death just a year old. Well, Tom remembered this promise. When I writing the book I got to that chapter and I said, “Tom, did you ever try to go back to North Korea? I mean you say it right here in the story.” He said, “No. Nobody goes to North Korea.” I said, “Well, I know some people. Let me see if we could get you there.”
Sure enough, we got permission to go to North Korea. Because Tom is a Medal of Honor recipient, and so he’s revered in the United States, but also the North Koreans respect that. They respect their elders as is their tradition, and they respect the military, so they welcomed Tom Hudner. It was amazing, Brett. In 2013, July, at age 89, Tom Hudner boarded a plane, flew all the way from Massachusetts to Beijing, China, then flew into North Korea. I was fortunate to accompany him. I mean most people at the age are worried about their golf scores or bouncing their grandkids on the knees.
Instead, Tom went there and sat down with the North Korean Army in this boardroom and these three senior colonels, just like the guys you see on television. They’re sitting across from us with the green uniforms and the red shoulder boards, and they’re stern looking. He said, “I come this far to ask you to search for the crash site of my friend Jesse Brown. He’s on a mountain in the Chosin Reservoir. Can you find him for us because our military can’t come look for him, but will yours do it?” It was amazing the response. The North Korean colonel said, “I have a message for you from Kim Jong-un, the Supreme Leader. They explained that Kim Jong-un had been appraised of Tom’s trip, and he admired Tom for coming so far after so long to keep a promise to a friend. Kim Jong-un authorized his Army to resume the search for American MIAs beginning with Jesse Brown.
Brett McKay: Wow. So that search is going on right now?
Adam Makos: It is going on now. It’s a difficult situation because the North Koreans … There are 7,000 American MIAs, nearly 7,000, still in North Korean soil, still missing from that war, and the North Koreans are willing to look for them. Now, of course, for them, they make money basically … When we send over our doctors and scientists to help with this process, of course, money comes into North Korean economy, so they love it. They want to help us. Our government, however, doesn’t want to put any money in there until they abandon their nuclear ambitions. It’s a terrible situation because it’s a mission that could benefit both countries. It’s a humanitarian mission. It’s good for the families of the Korean War. It’s good for people like the Brown family to see these remains come home. Except the American government links this issue to the North Korean nuclear program, and so we’re not going to go over there and bring back our own boys until they abandon their quest for the bomb. It seems like these two powers just can’t find the compromise.
Brett McKay: I’m curious, is there an organization that … like fundraising or that people can donate to to help with the project?
Adam Makos: That’s a great question. I’ve never heard of a private group doing this. It’s mostly the North Korean Army. There’s some thought, Brett, that they probably have already recovered hundreds and hundreds of American remains. We’re just not talking with them right now. We will not discuss this issue. They’re probably looking for our boys right now. They’re probably finding them, and they’re cataloging them because the mountains are eroding. There’s industrial growth. There’s so many things that are disturbing these gravesites. It really is a battle against time. I bet you one day when our countries figure out how to talk to one another, you’re going to see a whole bunch of American soldiers come home all at once, and we hope Jesse Brown will be the first among them.
Brett McKay: Adam, I mean this is an incredible story. I’m sure researching this, working with Tom, working with the families of the veterans changed you. How did you become a better man in the course of writing this book?
Adam Makos: Well, Brett, I would say one of the biggest issues facing our generation is selfishness and the narcissism that comes with the Facebook generation. I think we’re all becoming … I know we have such an inward focus. We all fall victim to it. “Oh, how many likes can I get? How many people comment on my birthday?” We see these girls who become Instagram models. We’re basically a generation that’s taught to promote ourselves and build our own brand and become celebrities. Whereas Tom’s generation and Jesse’s was all about helping other people and being part of a bigger community.
If anything I’ve learned, Tom’s captain of the aircraft carrier said it best, “There has been no finer act of unselfish heroism in military history.” That says everything about Tom Hudner. He would do anything to help anyone else to the point where he crash-lands a plane on a mountain to save a friend. We have to ask ourselves … Imagine you’re driving with your buddy, and he’s in the car ahead of you. You’re crossing a bridge, and his car goes off into an icy river. He’s trapped in his car. The river is swelling, and he can’t get out. How many of us would drive our car off the bridge into the icy river to get out and swim over and save our friend? That’s effectively what Tom did. He was willing to throw away his life for his buddy. All I can learn from that is I can become a better man if I study these guys and if I take their lessons to heart and if I remind myself of it consistently, that the way to be a better person is to look outside yourself.
Brett McKay: Adam, where can people find out more about the book?
Adam Makos: “Devotion,” it’s going to be available, well obviously, starting October 27, but then onward at bookstores everywhere. It’s on Amazon. We’re hoping for big things from this book. There’s a couple movie studios already interested in taking the story of Tom and Jesse to the big screen. I think they deserve it. I think the Korean War deserves it. We all have a Korean War veteran in our family. Somewhere in our family tree, we have one. When we see that veteran that has the ball cap that says Korea on it, it behooves us as Americans to know what that stands for so that we can say to that guy, “Thank you for your service,” like we say to the WWII veterans, like we say to the Iraqi veterans, but we can actually understand a little bit about what they did and what they fought for. I hope this book accomplishes that.
Brett McKay: Fantastic. Adam, thank you so much for your time. It’s been a pleasure.
Adam Makos: Great talking with you again, Brett. I’m glad to be a follower and fan of Art of Manliness.
Brett McKay: Thank you so much. My guest today was Adam Makos. He’s the author of the book “Devotion.” It is out now. It just came out today so go out and get it. It’s available on amazon.com and bookstores everywhere. Really, you’re not going to regret this. It’s just a fantastic read. When you’re done, you’re going to feel uplifted, edified and inspired, so go check it out. You will not be disappointed.
Well, that wraps up another edition of the Art of Manliness Podcast. For more manly tips and advice, make sure to check out the Art of Manliness website at artofmanliness.com. If you enjoyed this podcast, I’d really appreciate it if you give us a review on iTunes or Stitcher. That’d help us get the word out of the podcast and also give us feedback on how we can improve the show. Thank you for your continued support. Until next time, this is Brett McKay telling you to stay manly.