On 4 December 1950, Hudner and Brown were among a group of pilots on patrol near the Chosin Reservoir when Brown's Corsair was struck by ground fire from Chinese troops and crashed. In an attempt to save Brown from his burning aircraft, Hudner intentionally crash-landed his own aircraft on a snowy mountain in freezing temperatures to help Brown. In spite of these efforts, Brown died of his injuries and Hudner was forced to evacuate, having also been injured in the landing.
Hudner was born 31 August 1924 in Fall River, Massachusetts. His father, Thomas Hudner Sr., was a businessman of Irish descent who ran a chain of grocery stores, Hudner's Markets. Three brothers were later born, named James, Richard, and Phillip.
Hudner entered the prestigious Phillips Academy in Andover, Massachusetts, in 1939. His family had a long history in the academy, with his father graduating in 1911 and his uncle, Harold Hudner, graduating in 1921. Eventually, the three younger Hudner children would attend the academy as well; James in 1944, Richard in 1946 and Phillip in 1954. During his time in the high school, Thomas was active in several organizations, serving as a team captain in the school track team as well as a member of the football and lacrosse teams, a class officer, a member of student council, and a house councilor.