NOTE: This spoiler was submitted by Niki
Lieutenant Tom Hudner (Glen Powell) is a naval aviator who transferred to Rhode Island during the Korean War. He walks into the locker room and hears a stern commotion coming from the restrooms. Ensign Jesse Brown (Jonathan Majors) walks out and asks if he’s the transfer.
Hudner meets the other guys in the Fighter Squadron 32: Carol Mohring (Nick Hargrove), Bo Lavery (Spencer Neville), Marty Goode (Joe Jonas), and Bill Koenig (Darren Kagasoff), led by Lieutenant Commander Dick Cevoli (Thomas Sadoski) who shows them intel that Stalin and the Soviets tested their own bomb and it won’t be long until they strap it to a bomber. Cevoli assigns Hudner with Brown.
In the air, Brown flies without thinking about risks. He’s always in control, just not by the book. They take a detour on the way home. Hudner follows him because a wingman never leaves his partner. The flying isn’t what Hudner is used to. Brown even nose dives in a residential neighborhood
and if you look closely, a nice lady, Daisy Brown (Christina Jackson), stands in her front yard waving at them as they pull up at the last minute.
Back in the locker room, Hudner asks Brown what was up with that. Brown replies the only way to find out about your wingman is at 2000 feet. Hudner asks if he wants to grab a beer to get to know him, but Brown declines. He does not drink.
Cevoli has the squad over to his house for clams. Hudner tells Lavery he signed up with the Navy right after hearing about Pearl Harbor. He graduated one month after the war ended. Lavery says life doesn’t turn out like you plan, “I mean, did you ever think you’d be in a squadron with a colored aviator?” Hudner dodges the question and moves to the food.
Brown drives home. He waves to a neighbor who is not happy to see him. He tiptoes inside and scares his wife, Daisy, as she’s painting the hallway walls. They have a fun, loving relationship and a three-year-old daughter, Pam.
Cevoli briefs the team. A recon plane washed ashore with bullet holes underneath. The team will now prepare to be ready for the Russians in a new type of plane, aka widow maker. The engine is one of the most powerful things these pilots will fly behind. Throttle too much, and she’ll spin you over. There’s enough torque to flip a house. The pilots must go easy.
On the way home, Hudner sees Brown on the side of the road with car trouble. He offers him a ride home. Hudner tells him he was called to adventure and didn’t want to take over his father’s grocery stores. Brown always wanted to fly, and with the best pilots, so he joined the Navy. At the Brown residence, Daisy offers Hudner a drink but Brown declines because Hudner must have plans. Hudner takes the hint and graciously declines the offer. Daisy tells Brown to play nice, but Brown doesn’t know about Hudner yet.
The pilots check out the widow makers in person. They all run drills and get used to flying the new type of plane. They get the news they are shipping out. Daisy boosts Brown’s confidence before he leaves home.
The next day, Brown hides in the bathroom stall. Until everyone else in the locker room has left, he stares at himself in the mirror. And says numerous degrading comments to himself.
Hudner’s in his plane. Everyone on the team is watching as he makes his landing. He does it without trouble. Next, it’s Brown’s turn. All of the Black crew members on the carrier come up to see. Brown is flying too high. Hudner says he needs to get his nose up. The flag man guides him up, and Brown misses the carrier. He comes back around and feels the pressure. He is able to land the plane. Everyone has passed their carrier quals, and Hudner passed with perfect scores.
They are shipping out tomorrow, and Cevoli tells them to get their affairs in order. Hudner gives Brown a lift home, and Brown invites him inside this time. Daisy offers Hudner a drink and asks him to be there for Brown.
Brown enjoys his evening with his family at the beach.
The next day on the carrier, the team runs down the hallways, up the stairs, and to their planes. But it’s just a drill, and Cevoli says they have to do better. The team returns to their quarters, but Brown is asked to interview with Life Magazine for a positive story to ease the public’s anxiety about another potential war. Brown wants to be treated like any other pilot, while the interviewer wants the colored angle. Cevoli comes to his rescue and pulls Brown back to work.
Below deck, one of the army guys asks if Brown juggles too. Hudner goes nose-to-nose with the guy, but Brown makes the pilots talk away. Brown and Hudner will talk later. Hudner wanted to teach that guy a lesson, while Brown says it’s better this way.
Cevoli needs a volunteer for a task that no one wants to do. Hudner volunteers like Brown nudges Mohring to do it, and Hudner lets him. Mohring completes the tasks in the plane but can’t make the landing. The plane crashes into the ocean. Everyone is troubled by Mohring’s death, but Brown lets Hudner know he doesn’t appreciate him making comments about what Mohring should have/ could have done. Hudner insists the pilots won’t die if they do what they’re told. Later, the pilots give a toast to Mohring. Once it’s just Brown and Hudner, Brown tells Hudner at the academy. They made him do his tests ten times because they didn’t believe a Black man could swim. Stuck rocks in his flight suit, held him under and put ice in the water. They didn’t care if he died in that pool, but every time Brown made it out. He would be dead if he did what people told him to do. That’s what he was trying to teach Mohring.
They dock in Caan. The pilots go ashore and sightsee. Brown runs into a store for Daisy’s gift and sees a crowd of sailors. He goes to see what’s up, and it’s actress Elizabeth Taylor. One of the sailors makes a derogatory comment about not being with Brown. Elizabeth Taylor invites Brown to a casino party later that night. The pilots show up but are denied access to the french casino. But Brown starts speaking French, and they reluctantly let them in.
After dancing and drinking, they thank Elizabeth and head to another spot. Hudner spots a beautiful woman and flirts with her by doing a magic trick. The army guys from the carrier show up, and a fight starts because the guy thinks he had a shot with Elizabeth back at the casino, and Brown messed that up for him.
Cevoli briefs the team. The North Koreans have taken Seoul. If they take the rest of the southern peninsula, they could take Japan, and then America can’t contain Communism.
The ship sets sail for Korea. There may be one hundred thousand Chinese already in North Korea. The mission is to take out two bridges over a major river along the border, hoping to slow the Chinese from sending in more troops.
This time Cevoli flies with the team. But Hudner confirms that Cevoli’s plane has a mechanical issue with his landing gear and passes the command to Hudner. They fly over and are met with enemy fire. They cannot completely destroy the bridges, but Brown disobeys orders and returns to finish the job.
In Korea, the army guys are now on the ground, freezing their behinds off and waiting for the Chinese to attack. They do, and it’s an uneven fight.
Hudner hands in his mission report to Cevoli. He stated exactly what happened. Brown confronts him about it and says discipline for Brown is different than discipline for anyone else. Hudner understands and asks the team to write their accounts to clear Brown. Hudner walks in on Brown, repeating to himself in the mirror every hateful word anyone has ever said to him. Hudner tells him that he got the other guys to give testimony that the mission was complicated and Brown did the right thing. But Brown knows a piece of paper won’t help him. Hudner asks him what he wants him to do and Brown replies, “just be my wingman. Forget the lifesaver and get in the damn water.”
On deck, Brown gets some fresh air. He’s joined by a Black crew member. He tells Brown that they all heard he had some good flying the other day and wanted to let Brown know they saw him. They all pitched in and bought him a watch in Caan. Engraved on the back is “Above All Others.” Brown is touched by this gesture.
On the runway, Brown runs into a friend from the past who he calls Alabama. Alabama is with the search and rescue unit.
Daisy receives a letter from Brown. He hid her birthday gift and gave clues for her to find it. She finds the gift, earrings, in Pam’s closet. He closes his letter with “lovingly and completely yours. I’ll love you forever.”
Cevoli and the team are briefed. The army is fighting in an unspeakable hell. For every marine, there are six Chinese hiding in the woods. Gets below minus thirty at night. The boys are holding on by their fingernails, and air support would greatly help, but it is a dangerous mission.
On the ground, the marines pray and finally advance their vantage point when the pilots arrive. They give them hell, but once they leave the area, Hudner notices Brown’s plane is leaking fuel. Brown states that it’s oil. He needs to take the plane down easily because he won’t last much longer. Cevoli calls in search and rescue. Brown releases all of his missiles so they won’t end up in the enemy’s hands. Brown lands hard. Hudner can’t see him moving. He decides to crash land his plane to be with Brown. The other pilots try to talk him out of it, but he takes his plane down after releasing his missiles.
He runs to Brown, who is wedged between his seat and the control panel. Both men try to lift it off him, but they can’t.
Search and rescue gets Cevoli’s mayday call, but it’s too dark to land. Alabama overhears and tells them he’s on his way.
In the freezing cold, Hudner gives Brown his beanie cap to keep him warm. Hudner tries to extinguish the fire on Brown’s engine with snow. Brown is still stuck when Alabama arrives. They try to get him free, but he’s still wedged. Brown becomes weaker and weaker and asks Hudner to tell Daisy he’ll always love her. Hudner starts beating the plane with all his might to free Brown but stops once he realizes that Brown has passed away.
They leave, and Hudner promises to come back for Brown. Hudner begs his commanders to let him go back for Brown’s body, but they deny him. Brown’s body was never recovered.
Back on the carrier, Hudner is checked out by the doctor. Cevoli leads the other pilots on a funeral flight to say goodbye to Brown.
Daisy receives a letter from the war department. She is overcome with emotion. Time passes, and Daisy flies to Washington, where President Truman gives the Medal of Honor to Jesse Brown and Tom Hudner. After the ceremony, Hudner speaks to Daisy about being afraid of this day. Daisy tells him she appreciates what he did. Hudner says Brown’s last words were for her, “just tell Daisy I love her.” Hudner apologizes for not saving him. Daisy says that wasn’t his job. She wanted him to be there for him, and he was.
The Hudner and Brown families remained friends for the rest of their lives, and their descendants remained close. The film closes with Brown reading his last letters to Daisy with his signature sign off “Your devoted husband, lovingly and completely yours. Jesse.”