Joe M. Jackson's service to his country spans three wars and is crowned by the nation's highest military decoration, the Medal of Honor. Raised in Newnan, Georgia, and fascinated by airplanes from an early age, Jackson was an avid model airplane enthusiast in high school. After graduation, he completed an aircraft mechanics school sponsored by Delta Air Lines, but lacking experience, couldn't find a job. In March 1941, Jackson joined the Army Air Corps to become more competitive for positions after military service. Nine months later the US entered WW II, and he went to New England as crew chief on a B-25 Mitchell tasked to fly antisubmarine warfare missions in the North Atlantic.
After guiding a pilot during an inflight engine fire, Staff Sergeant Jackson's interest turned to flying. Earning his wings and commission as an Aviation Cadet, he served as a gunnery instructor and trained in the B-24 Liberator. Transitioning to fighters after the war, he flew the P-40 Warhawk, P-51 Mustang, P-63 Kingcobra, P-47 Thunderbolt, and F-82 Twin Mustang (an unusual, twin fuselage, P-51 lookalike) before moving to the F-84 Thunderjet. In early 1950, Jackson faced an unusual problem--how to help his squadron's pilots arrive safely in poor weather. His solution, known today as a Standard Jet Penetration, employed a descending teardrop flightpath using ground navigation aids and timing.
It immediately lowered weather restrictions from a 5,000-foot ceiling and 5 mile visibility to 400 feet and 2 miles, and was soon adopted Air Force wide. In late 1950, Jackson completed two transoceanic mass ferry flights--the first of their kind to equip USAF units in Europe with 180 F-84s. Four days after returning from the second crossing, Jackson deployed to Korea, where he flew 107 combat missions. In 1956, he became one of the first Air Force pilots to fly the U-2, later commanding several reconnaissance detachments around the world. After moving to HQ Strategic Air Command in 1960, he planned and directed aerial reconnaissance over Cuba.
His efforts played a key role in the Cuban Missile Crisis and led to the withdrawal of Soviet offensive nuclear weapons. After Air War College and a staff tour in Europe, he flew the venerable C-123 Provider on 298 combat sorties in Vietnam. Colonel Jackson later served in the Pentagon and on the Air War College faculty before retiring with almost 33 years in the Air Force. He then joined the Boeing Aircraft Company and developed a maintenance training program for the Imperial Iranian Air Force.
Three men of a USAF Combat Control Team are stranded and under heavy fire at Kham Duc Airfield, Vietnam, which has been overrun by the enemy. Wreckage litters the runway and ammunition dumps explode as Joe Jackson slams his C-123 down for a perfect assault landing. As he spins the aircraft about, the men race for the aircraft and climb aboard ... firing all the way. Lining up for departure, he narrowly avoids an incoming rocket, applies full power, and executes a short field takeoff under increasing fire. Spending less than 1 minute on the ground, he saved three men from certain capture or death and earned our nation's highest award for valor, the Medal of Honor.