Share This Episode
Our American Stories Lee Habeeb Logo

Love and Sacrifice: The Navy’s "Jackie Robinson" (Told by Granddaughter)

Our American Stories / Lee Habeeb
The Truth Network Radio
February 13, 2023 3:02 am

Love and Sacrifice: The Navy’s "Jackie Robinson" (Told by Granddaughter)

Our American Stories / Lee Habeeb

On-Demand Podcasts NEW!

This broadcaster has 1000 podcast archives available on-demand.

Broadcaster's Links

Keep up-to-date with this broadcaster on social media and their website.

February 13, 2023 3:02 am

On this episode of Our American Stories, this is the story of America's first Black Naval Aviator, Jesse Leroy Brown. There's a movie dedicated to him called "Devotion," based on the book of the same name by our regular contributor, Adam Makos. The story is also about Thomas Hudner, who received the Medal of Honor for trying to his Jesse's life. Here to tell the story is Jesse's granddaughter, Jessica Leroyce Knight Henry.

Support the show (

See for privacy information.


What up, it's dramas from the Life as a Gringo podcast.

We are back with a brand new season. Now Life as a Gringo speaks to Latinos who are born or raised here in the States. It's about educating and breaking those generational curses that man have been holding us back for far too long. I'm here to discuss the topics that are relevant to all of us and to define what it means to live as our true authentic self.

Listen to Life as a Gringo on the iHeart Radio app, Apple Podcast, or wherever you get your podcasts. Brought to you by State Farm. Like a good neighbor, State Farm is there. So you're in the garage working on your car and you need the valves you bought last week. You look in the cabinets and on the shelves. But the parts are never in the right place. eBay Motors has the car parts you need. Over 122 million of them all in one place and all at the right prices.

Find parts for everything from your classic coupe to your brand new truck at Let's ride. So instead of selling my car using the Roto app on my phone, I posted an ad online. Now it's non-stop phone calls and people at my door. I'm Larry, I'm here about the sedan. Not now Larry. See, Roto will buy your car or even buy you out of a lease without the hassle. Hey, I'm not a hassle. Yes you are Larry. Use Roto to buy a new car or sell your existing car or lease in just minutes.

Download the Roto app or check out now. And we continue with our American stories. Up next, the story of America's first black naval aviator. There's been a movie dedicated to him called Devotion based on the book of the same name by Adam Makos, who's a regular contributor to this show. This story is about Jesse Leroy Brown, but it's also about Thomas Hudner who won a medal of honor trying to save Jesse's life in combat. Here to tell this story is the granddaughter of Jesse Leroy Brown. I'm Jessica Knight-Henry, the granddaughter of Jesse Leroy Brown, the first black naval aviator. My grandfather was born in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, which is also where I grew up. And, you know, his story means so much to our family, but is also a really important piece of American history.

And so we've been so grateful with the success of the film Devotion to just bring Jesse's story to a much wider audience. Spoiler alert, Jesse's plane was shot down and he was killed in action December 3rd, 1950. And my mom was just shy of being two years old. And so we didn't grow up with my grandfather. Just stories from my grandmother, his brothers, and those who served with him about his legacy and exactly what he meant to them. But what that historic sacrifice meant to so many others, particularly the American military. But the interesting thing about the movie is that we meet Jesse when he's already a pilot. And so if there was anything that I would share with folks would be more insight into just exactly what he overcame to get him to that place. So Jesse grew up in a shotgun one bedroom home in South Mississippi.

No indoor plumbing, you know, no electricity. They would often read the Bible and scripture by candlelight. And I mean, modest is probably a very generous word. A very generous word for what they experienced, but it was a home nonetheless. And it was, you know, what they built and what they were proud of. And sharecropping at the time was just the level of hard work. And the boys were in the fields. They had an opportunity to get an education because the family placed a huge importance on that. But they were also out there working right along with their father.

He was in school, he would read the dictionary backwards and forwards and all of these stories that I heard growing up about just how important it was to be successful because they saw that as a ticket out of the abject poverty that they faced in South Mississippi. A lot of the farms that they would be working were by airfields. And so Jesse often saw these planes, whether crop dusters or other aircraft, and always knew that he wanted to fly. And so there are countless stories of him being a little boy.

And, you know, as they're literally picking cotton and seeing a plane overhead would say, I'm going to fly one of those someday. And I like to think of the Snickers or the looks that he would get from folks. One of my favorite stories that I heard about my grandfather was a black night watchman at one of the hangers who allowed him and his brothers to come in and literally touch a plane, get inside of a plane and how that one little moment, an act of kindness was important to him because of this love of flying. And so you think about him being in high school, he was just gifted, which is incredibly daunting. I think being the granddaughter of someone who was amazing. He was an incredible athlete.

He ran track. He was valedictorian at his high school. And so having all of these achievements, but still being just so bound by your circumstances at a time like that growing up in, you know, 1930s Mississippi, what that must have meant. My uncle junior Jesse's brother would talk about how he was approached to participate in this local competition to design a part for a water pump. And this white company owner had been to various other colleges and also high schools, but looking to individuals that had some engineering prowess and only came to Eureka High School when he was unable to find someone to create this part. And Jesse was so excited, one, to be able to have this opportunity, but to really have the machinations in his brain work and to be challenged in this way. And so he was able to successfully build this part to help this water pump. And it was something that, one, grown men with jobs like should have been able to do. And he did it. The guy said, thank you. And that was sort of the end of it. And I remember my uncle junior, who I mentioned the brothers would always be emotional when they would think about what Jesse endured.

Jesse told him that the owner said to him, if you weren't figuring out how to fix that machine would have paid for your college. And so the idea of him getting the courage to want to even dream about something beyond that, but then going off and doing that. And obviously he had the motivation from his parents and his family. But I think a lot of what we hear, particularly around the courtship that he shared with my grandmother, was just how powerful of a force that was as well. And, you know, him meeting her and then being, you know, in high school together, but him walking upwards of five, 10 miles just to make sure he was there to walk her to and from classes and understanding that she was the eldest of a really, really large family and what that looked like to come and say like, hey, this is someone that I want to date and how that must have been pretty daunting. But, you know, at the same time, having to recognize a lot of the responsibilities that she had with helping to rear her own siblings as well. And so this powerful love story that they shared that really, you know, came together over wanting and daring to achieve something greater than what they were born into.

And so I think when the opportunity for my grandfather to move to Ohio to matriculate for college, him having the opportunity to join the architectural program at Ohio State University and then subsequently join the Navy ROTC program and begin a flight training school. There were stories of him working in boxcars and experiencing some level of homelessness and whatever he had to do to sacrifice to achieve those dreams and also to make money and send it back home. So he was going to always go against the current, despite it being more difficult and unchartered. Jesse always wanted to be the best.

And that meant like competing with the best. And you've been listening to Jessica Knight Henry tell the story of her granddaddy, Jesse Leroy Brown. And he grew up in a sharecropping home in Hattiesburg, Mississippi.

And by the way, we broadcast about three and a half hours north of Hattiesburg in Oxford, Mississippi, a beautiful small college town about an hour south of Memphis. He grew up near airfields, too, working in the cotton fields. He'd see planes flying overhead, and he would tell anybody he could. I'm going to fly those one day.

And indeed, he did. When we come back, more of the life story of Jesse Leroy Brown here on Our American Stories. I'm always upgrading my car, not because I need to, because I want to. Today it's custom rims from my ride. Tomorrow, it might be a new driver's side seat cushion. And eBay always has what I need.

They've got over 122 million car parts, all at the right price. That's perfect for me, because I'm a car guy. Are you still in the garage? It's two in the morning.

Almost done. Okay, I'm a car fanatic. eBay Motors.

Let's ride. With ever longer ingredient lists on beauty products, it's hard to tell what you're really buying. That's why Sephora is committed to cutting through the clutter and confusion, helping to push the industry forward by showing what's really in their products. At Sephora, their clean standards mean products formulated without parabens, sulfates, phthalates, mineral oils, and more. So when you see the clean at Sephora seal, you know you're getting a clean you can count on.

Learn more about their clean standards and shop clean at Sephora beauty at Ready to play some tennis? Let's do it. Are you going to put your phone away? No. Roto makes it so easy to buy a car. I could do both at once. It's really that easy.

Yeah. With the Roto app, I can shop thousands of cars from local dealers, buy the one I want right from my phone, and have it delivered to my house for free. I'm gonna try it.

Not a good idea, Jim. Downloading the app now. And I dropped my phone. Download the Roto app or check out when you're not playing a sport.

The easiest way to buy or sell a car right from your phone. And we continue with our American stories and the story of Jesse Leroy Brown. Here to pick up where she last left off, talking about her granddad, Jessica Knight Henry. Jesse always wanted to be the best. And that meant like competing with the best. And even considering like the Naval Academy at that time was not a place where he would have had that opportunity. So going and finding a program where he knew that there was a path to get him in the military, in a plane, was something that he looked into to make sure that he could afford himself that opportunity. And this is before he even enters the flight training program. And I think once he is accepted into that program, you know, it's certainly a historical first. But now you have the ire of individuals who don't want to see a Black man be successful in this space and experiencing that, you know, their stories of him and the swim test. And it's alluded to in the film. And I think to think about the many, many times that they made him take that test and adding weights to his backpack and for him to achieve that, but then to make it even that much more difficult.

Or his LO not wanting to pin his wings once he actually did achieve this. And I think there's, you know, a lot of the stories that we hear, just, you know, how he was this sort of quiet kind of giant, like he processed that and didn't have a ton of outlet. There are stories that he shared with his brothers and they would always just be so emotional about how revered he was. They understood a lot of what he kept to himself in an effort to protect them as well. For them to, you know, still have the space to also dream and want to achieve something, even though he knew that many people would like to see him fail. And so the importance of having my grandmother in that space, it was amazing hearing Christina Jackson, who plays my grandmother and Jonathan Majors, talk about sanctuary and what that meant for Jesse and Daisy and how that was a word that they came back to often when they were on set trying to portray that. And it was such a beautiful thought for me to think about them being that sanctuary because their faith certainly grounded them in, you know, everything that they did growing up in the black church and understanding that and really seeing like how much of a foundational pillar it was and to think about a higher calling in terms of faith, but also to be driven by something that's calling you to be more than what your circumstances allow. And so having that was what contributed to a lot of the fire in the belly that Jesse and my grandmother Daisy had.

Pearl Harbor is important in the historical context of why the U.S. military needed to push forward with sort of desegregating the military. We get a lot of comparisons when folks who are not familiar with my grandfather's story of, oh, Tuskegee Airmen, and it's, you know, one making the differential between the fact that they were army pilots, but this was also a unit that had multiple individuals, whereas Jesse had to go it alone. And so I think that understanding the Navy and carrier landing and what that meant as being an extreme elite pilot to be able to land planes on the shortened runway and how dangerous it was and that he was elite at this thing. Jesse and Tom both had gone on to achieve being Navy pilots. And when Jesse gets the opportunity to meet Tom, not only are they equals, but Jesse outranks him. And so I hear all of these stories and from other guys in the squadron that it wasn't this immediate deep connection that they had to work at it. You know, there's a certain intimacy that you experience when you're flying with someone and being someone's wingman in a way is this true partnership. And so we would hear stories of Tom talk about Jesse and despite folks meaning well, he just wanted to be treated as an equal and not receiving a handout or looked down upon or that you were some pity hire.

He achieved that in some ways with more to overcome than others did because his path was much more arduous. And so having gotten to know Tom Hudner throughout my childhood was just not only the love that was there, but that deep seated respect that he and others had for Jesse within the squadron. So they are experiencing a flight mission, which felt mostly routine for what they had experienced. And as Jesse and Tom, after providing support on the ground for the Marines, his plane is hit by enemy fire and they noticed that it has affected the engine. And so it becomes apparent that he's going to have to crash land his plane. And so the guys are there with him and flying support and he crashes his plane and isn't able to get himself out. We find out that he is pinned into the fuselage of the plane. And it's amazing to think what must have gone through Tom's mind at the time, but it's one of those things that he could have been court-martialed for.

It was not this heroic thing at the time. He was intentionally destroying a US Navy plane after another plane had already gone down in an attempt to save Jesse and crash lands his plane, gets out, does what he can to try to free him and is unsuccessful in that he's not able to get him out. But I think for the family, we've always found so much solace and have been extremely grateful that Tom was with my grandfather during those final moments. And that's where we know that his last words were, tell Daisy, I love her. And I get emotional because there's so much that we lost when we lost Jesse and to be able to have had an opportunity to say thank you directly to Tom over many occasions, but just recognizing the sacrifice that he made. We are so grateful and are so proud that he rightfully received the Medal of Honor for that heroic attempt. But I would say the one thing is that getting to meet other members from the squadron, Bill Koenig, Marty Goode, I got a chance to connect with them.

When I was in my early 20s, I had moved to Virginia Beach. And to hear both of them say that any of them would have done the same for him is just such a testament to who Jesse was, but what that brotherhood really meant. And I think Tom has also said that if it weren't him, that it would have been someone else that was willing to make that sacrifice as well. This has been an incredible journey for our family. One, just getting to share Jesse with the world. It was certainly a place where I felt the most anxiety, I think, coming in and knowing that he would become a household name. And I think that's always been a dream of ours. But at the same time, protecting the family legacy and keeping that so close. So here's Jesse Leeward-Brown.

I'm Jessica LaRoyce, now Knight-Henry. But yeah, I mean, I guess they always had a plan. It took me a minute to, I guess, sort of step into it. But yeah, it's just amazing. And I have a six-year-old and her name is, she's named after my grandmother. So we are very, like, very close to each other.

And I think that's what it's all about. So we are very, like, locked in, loaded with the Jesse and Daisy legacy in my household. And a terrific job on the production and editing by Greg Hengler.

And a special thanks to Jessica Knight-Henry, Jesse Leeward-Brown's granddaughter. And we learned from her that the family's faith grounded him and, by the way, gave him that sense of the divine, of the higher purpose and a higher life and his talents. And he wanted the best of the best of the toughest of the toughest, which meant, of course, being a naval aviator, because you had to land that plane, well, on that aircraft carrier, that tiny landing strip that's moving and bouncing around. And so he goes to Ohio State because there's a pathway to become the first black naval aviator. And he did it alone.

He did it alone in that way. He's the Jackie Robinson of naval aviation. And then there's Thomas Hudner, who's white. And a fascinating part of this story is that love, that bond, that this white man who grew up so differently than Jesse.

The story of Jesse Leeward-Brown is told by his granddaughter here on Our American Stories. How are you spending your weekend? With friends and family? Or at the car dealership? Why lease a new car the old way? With Roto, lease your vehicle in three easy steps, all from our app. Shop real-time inventory and see the clear cost. That means the best price personalized to you with no haggling. Then complete your lease right from your phone.

The best part? Your new car is delivered right to your door. Download the Roto app today. That's R-O-D-O.

Ready, set, Roto. This February Xfinity Flex is unlocking premium entertainment for you to try every single week, no strings attached. Celebrate during Black History Month with shows like Unsung the Decades. Snuggle up during Valentine's Day with a Lifetime Movie Club pick like Harry and Meghan A Royal Romance.

Or crank up the action with Godfather of Harlem from MGM+. Get down and funky with the Classic Soul playlist from iHeartRadio. Easily discover new free content each week across the best streaming app.

Say it free this week into your Xfinity voice remote. Looking forward to spring break, graduation, and girls nights out? Get outfitted today at Lulu's. Lulu's is all about providing on-trend looks for any occasion. Whether it's a current trend or a closet staple, you can find it at Lulu's. And when you make an account with Lulu's, use code Lulu'sFan20 to save 20% off your first order. That's Lulu'sFan20. Place your order today at Lulu' Terms and conditions apply. See Lulu' for details.
Whisper: medium.en / 2023-02-19 13:22:37 / 2023-02-19 13:31:17 / 9

Get The Truth Mobile App and Listen to your Favorite Station Anytime