Iconic Air Force pilot, Medal of Honor recipient dies at 95

Matt Saintsing
January 14, 2019 - 4:56 pm

Photo by Rafael TInsay

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Joe M. Jackson, a Medal of Honor recipient and retired Air Force Col. passed away on Saturday at the age of 95. 

Born on March 14, 1923, in Newman Georgia, Jackson served during three of America’s wars: World War II, Korea, and later Vietnam, where he received the Distinguished Flying Cross. 

His loss was felt at the highest levels of current Air Force leadership. 

Jackson’s service began in the spring of 1941 when he enlisted in the Army Air Corps. He was promptly promoted to Staff Sergeant before being selected for Aviation Cadet training flying both the P-40 Warhawk and P-63 Kingcobra; after graduation, he served as an instructor at Eglin Field, Fla. 

He flew 107 combat missions in an F-84 Thunderjet in the skies over Korea, and later served as an operations officer and executive officer of the 524th Fighter Squadron.

As a trailblazer, he was among the Air Force’s first U-2 pilots in 1956. He was sent to Vietnam in 1968 as a C-123 Provider pilot with the 311th Air Commando Squadron. On May 12 of that year, he volunteered for a mission to rescue three Airmen who fell under massive enemy resistance near Kham Duc in South Vietnam. 

“The camp was engulfed in flames, and ammunition dumps were continuously exploding and littering the runway with debris,” reads his Medal of Honor citation. “In addition, eight aircraft had been destroyed by the intense enemy fire, and one aircraft remained on the runway reducing its usable length to only 2,200 feet.”

As the battle raged the weather made landing nearly impossible, but Jackson chose to attempt the rescue. 

“Displaying superb airmanship and extraordinary heroism, he landed his aircraft near the point where the combat control team was reported to be hiding,” according to the citation. “While on the ground, his aircraft was the target of intense hostile fire.”

A rocket had landed just off the nose of his aircraft but did not explode. 

After the Airmen were safely aboard, he took off “despite the hostile fire directed across the runway in front of his aircraft.” 

Jackson was awarded the Medal of Honor on Jan. 16, 1969 by President Lyndon B. Johnson. 

After retiring from the military in 1974, he worked for Boeing for the next three years. 

Jackson is survived by his wife Rosamond and two children, Bonnie and David. Currently, just  73 living Medal of Honor recipients remain. 

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