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The Hollywood movie Devotion, to be released on Nov. 23, is set to be the biggest draw for veterans since Top Gun: Maverick, the highest-grossing film of 2022 thus far.
A stirring aerial combat epic, it tells the true story of two elite U.S. Navy fighter pilots sent into action in the Korean War in 1950.
At first glance, the two pilots could hardly have been more different. Lt. Tom Hudner (played by Glen Powell, who was Hangman in Top Gun: Maverick) was white and from a privileged New England background. Ensign Jesse Brown (played by Jonathan Majors) was from Mississippi and the first Black carrier pilot.
Yet the pair forged a powerful bond, and their grit and devotion to each other and their country made them America’s most celebrated wingmen. The movie is based on the bestselling book of the same name, which was written by Adam Makos. AARP Veteran Report senior editor Toby Harnden sat down with him.
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TH: What led you to a career researching and telling true stories about great Americans who have served our country?
AM: Growing up, my grandfathers were both an integral part of my life. They had both been in World War II, one as a Marine and the other flying in B-17s. They had served at the very tail end of the war. They didn’t see the horrors that so many others did and so they could talk about it. They took my brother and I to air shows and museums. When other kids played football or baseball or went to the mall, my brother and I began publishing a homemade magazine about our favorite topic: World War II. One thing led to another, and we transitioned to writing books, and that’s what we do today.
TH: You first met Tom Hudner, a Medal of Honor recipient, in 2007, when you were in your mid-20s. That led to your book and this movie. What was he like?
AM: Tom was always gracious, always accommodating, always the gentleman. I was just a young journalist with meager credentials when I first approached him, asking him to retell that story he’d told so many times before. And still, he was willing to talk to me. Also, he wanted to fulfill the duty that came with the Medal of Honor. As he put it, “We wear the medal for all of those who served.” That was pretty profound for me. Tom was a guy who existed for other people, and the act of heroism that he performed reflects that.
TH: You never met Jesse Brown, but you interviewed his widow, brothers and many others who knew him. What sort of person was he?
AM: Jesse Brown was a fascinating figure, in many ways a renaissance man. He could speak French and sing in Latin. His mother was an educator, and she taught him as a kid to love reading and learning and to enrich his mind.
He made it to where no other Black man had made it before — into the Navy carrier club — because he was soft-spoken, polished and poised, just welcoming and unassuming.