Press contact: Jessica Souva, (202) 486-1840
Public contact: U.S. Navy Memorial, (202) 737-2300

July 13, 2011

Veterans History Project Hosts Film Screening and Panel Discussion Honoring Naval Aviator

The Veterans History Project (VHP) of the Library of Congress American Folklife Center commemorates the July 26, 1948 anniversary of the integration of the U.S. Armed Forces and the Centennial of Naval Aviation with a film screening and panel discussion honoring Ensign Jesse Leroy Brown, the nation’s first African American to be trained as an aviator for the Navy, at 6 p.m. on Thursday, July 28, at the U.S. Navy Memorial Burke Theater. The theater is located at 701 Pennsylvania Ave., N.W., Washington, D.C.

The program is free and open to the public; no tickets are required. Medal of Honor recipient Captain Thomas J. Hudner, Jr., U.S. Navy (Ret.), wingman to Ensign Brown, will moderate the discussion.

During the Korean War, Brown navigated a racially segregated Navy to become the first African-American naval aviator to break the color barrier. Letters to his wife, Daisy Brown, document recurring concern for those fighting on the front lines. "Knowing that he’s helping those poor guys on the ground," Brown wrote in his last letter, dated December 3, 1950, "I think every pilot here would fly until he dropped in his tracks."

On December 4, 1950, Brown’s plane was hit by enemy fire and crash-landed at Chosin Reservoir. Brown was pinned in his aircraft. Hudner force-landed his fighter plane and attempted at length, in severe cold, to rescue Brown. Brown died but was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for his combat service. Hudner received the first Navy Medal of Honor awarded in the Korean War.

Panelists to discuss Brown’s story and its historic implications include:

  • B. J. Penn, who was assistant secretary of the Navy 2005-2009 and served as acting secretary of the Navy in 2009. Penn began his career as a naval aviator.
  • Lt. Cmdr. Roland M. Christensen, U.S. Navy (Ret.), who was Brown's first flight instructor at Naval Air Station Glenview.
  • Capt. Robert O. Blackington, U.S. Navy (Ret.), who was a shipmate on the U.S.S. Leyte with Brown.
  • Jamal Knight, a senior applications engineer in the oil and gas industry, Brown’s grandson.
  • Deacon Troy Demps, who served as Brown’s steward at Naval Air Station Jacksonville.
  • Valada Parker Flewellyn, a nationally recognized author, poet, storyteller and curator of the museum exhibit "A Pilot Lights the Way: A Tribute to Jesse Leroy Brown & Blacks in Aviation," on display at the National Naval Aviation Museum in Pensacola, Fla.

The event is presented by the Library of Congress Veterans History Project in cooperation with the U.S. Navy Memorial, the U.S. Department of Defense 60th Anniversary of the Korean War Commemoration Committee and the Zora Neale Hurston Institute for Documentary at the University of Central Florida, where the film was produced.

The Library of Congress, the nation’s oldest federal cultural institution and the largest library in the world, holds nearly 147 million items in various languages, disciplines and formats. The Library serves the U.S. Congress and the nation both on-site in its reading rooms on Capitol Hill and through its award-winning website at

Congress created the Veterans History Project in 2000 as a national documentation program of the American Folklife Center ( to collect, preserve and make accessible the first-hand remembrances of American wartime veterans from World War I through the current conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, so that future generations may hear directly from veterans and better understand the realities of war. The project relies on volunteers to record veterans’ remembrances using guidelines accessible at . Volunteers may request more information at or the toll-free message line at (888) 371-5848. Subscribe to VHP’s RSS on the VHP home page.

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PR 11-131
ISSN 0731-3527

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