Metro

At funeral, woman says Hudner, man he tried to rescue are ‘together in heaven’

A funeral service was held for Medal of Honor recipient Thomas Hudner at the Holy Family Parish Church. His widow, Georgea (center), looked at the flag the the Army National Guard pallbearers folded outside at the end of the service.
John Tlumacki/Globe Staff
A funeral service was held for Medal of Honor recipient Thomas Hudner at the Holy Family Parish Church. His widow, Georgea (center), looked at the flag the the Army National Guard pallbearers folded outside at the end of the service.

CONCORD — In December 1950, in the midst of the Korean War, Thomas J. Hudner Jr. crash-landed his plane behind enemy lines to save his friend and fellow pilot, Jesse Brown. It was the last time the two men saw each other alive.

On Thursday, Brown’s granddaughter, Jessica Knight Henry, went to Hudner’s funeral and said she took comfort in the fact that her grandfather and Hudner were now together in heaven.

“I think it’s an amazing thought that they’re finally reunited, after Tom risked his own life,” she said. “We’re eternally grateful for the sacrifice that he made to save him.”

Advertisement

She was among the many mourners who gathered at Holy Family Parish for the funeral Mass of retired Navy Captain Thomas J. Hudner Jr., a recipient of the Medal of Honor who died peacefully at his home here Monday at the age of 93.

Get Fast Forward in your inbox:
Forget yesterday's news. Get what you need today in this early-morning email.
Thank you for signing up! Sign up for more newsletters here

During the service, Hudner was remembered as a loving father, loyal friend, and courageous war hero. Every pew in the church was filled, and attendees included Governor Charlie Baker and members of the Navy, Concord Police Department, and State Police.

Hudner’s son, Thomas J. Hudner III, delivered a poignant eulogy, recalling how whenever anyone asked his father about his efforts to rescue Brown, he’d simply say, “It was the right thing to do.”

Hudner described his father as a natural leader who was “humble to a fault” and “always deflecting praise.”

“He was about as even-keeled as you can get,” he said.

Advertisement

Hudner also said his father was quite the handyman. Hudner recalled one time when he was young and his toy airplane hit a tree and broke in half. “We went inside and watched in awe as my dad fixed the plane using matchsticks, wire, and glue,” he said. “My friend looked at me and said, ‘Your dad’s a genius.’ ”

Hudner recounted another instance when he was a baby and his father used string to hang his bottle upside down over his crib, so it hovered just above his head, allowing him to take a sip whenever he wanted to. “Just like a gerbil,” Hudner quipped.

The elder Hudner lived a “long, full, and interesting and happy” life, his son told the crowd, adding that the more than six decades that he spent with family after he served in the war was a “wonderful bonus.” Thomas Hudner III also lauded Brown, who was the first African-American aviator in the Navy, as “a hero in his own right.”

Knight Henry said Hudner had always been a living connection to her grandfather and was close to her family. Over the years, they attended many military events together, and she recalled seeing him when the USS Thomas Hudner was christened in April. She said she felt fortunate that her infant daughter got to meet him at that christening ceremony. “That was a really special moment that we got to share,” she said.

After the Mass, a crowd of people stood silently in the steps in front of the church and watched the pallbearers place the American flag on the casket. Taps was played, and shots echoed through the air. Then the mourners watched as the casket was placed in a waiting hearse.

Advertisement

Two rows of Navy personnel stood at attention on the sidewalk and saluted as the shiny black hearse slowly drove past.

Concord’s town flag was flown at half-staff Wednesday and Thursday in honor of Hudner’s military service and for his being selected as Concord’s Honored Citizen in 2010.

Baker praised Hudner in a statement released Monday, the day Hudner died.

“Few possess the bravery, determination, and character that Captain Hudner displayed throughout his lifetime,” the governor said.

Interment will take place at Arlington National Cemetery, and a memorial service for Hudner will be held locally at a date to be announced.

Emily Sweeney can be reached at esweeney@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @emilysweeney.