Jesse L. Brown – The Man Behind the Devotion Film

Jesse L. Brown was a US Navy officer who was the first African-American to complete the Navy’s flight training program. Devotion, the movie that tells his story was released last November (Nov. 23, 2022 to be exact). Released six months after Tom Cruise’s Top Gun: Maverick, Devotion was not able to capitalize on the Navy aviation buzz. The film would only gross approximately $22 million, compared to a budget of approximately $90 million.

We here at Random Niches give the film “2 thumbs up” but we’ll leave the movie review business to the professionals, ie: Rotten Tomatoes. And while the movie might not be considered a hit, one can’t deny the impact that was left behind by the story of Officer Brown. Born into a sharecropper family in Hattiesburg, Mississippi on October 13, 1926, he started his naval flight training at Naval Air Station Glenview in Glenview, IL in March 1947. His training also included stops at Naval Air Station Ottumwa in Ottumwa, IA and Naval Air Station Pensacola in Pensacola, FL. At the young age of 22 years old, he completed the program on October 21, 1948.

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Brown was KIA (killed in action) on December 4, 1950, while flying a mission during the Korean War. He was forced to crash along a mountainside near the Chosin Reservoir in North Korea. {MOVIE SPOILER ALERT in 3… 2… 1…}

As shown in the film, Brown was pinned in his cockpit and could not get out of the plane once it had crashed. His friend and wingman on the mission, Lietenant (j.g.) Thomas J. Hudner Jr., crashed his own plane and risked his own life in order to attempt a rescue. Per Naval History and Heritage Command, Hudner ignored the directive of: “If a plane goes down, that’s one down. We don’t need Hollywood stuff.” The rescue attempt failed. Hudner was unable to save his friend.

Brown often found himself as the “only black person”, not just in the Navy but also as a college student. He attended Ohio State and was the only black student in the school’s College of Engineering. It was said that he kept a little book where he noted the many racial slurs that were said to him in his life. He would then stare in a mirror and yell these slurs to himself as a form of motivation. He may have died young, but he certainly lived a full life.

Brown was married (wife’s name Daisy) and had a daughter named Pamela. In addition to the movie, you can learn more about Jessi L. Brown by reading the book Devotion: An Epic Story of Heroism, Friendship, and Sacrifice. The book was written by Adam Makos in 2017 and the movie version is based off this book.

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