Joe Jackson flew for his country in three wars! As a youth in Newnan, Georgia, Jackson was an avid model airplane enthusiast. After graduation from high school, he enlisted in the Army Air Corps and, when the United States entered World War II, he became a crew chief on the North American B-25 Mitchell. After an in-flight engine fire during an antisubmarine patrol over the North Atlantic, Jackson decided he wanted pilot wings and then earned them as an aviation cadet. As a lieutenant, he flew gunnery instruction in fighters, including the Curtiss P-40 Warhawk and the Bell P-63 Kingcobra.
As allied forces moved nearer to Japan, he was transitioning to bombers, the Consolidated B-24 Liberator, when the war ended. Jackson soon returned to fighters and flew the Republic P-47 Thunderbolt, North American P-51 Mustang, and F-82 Twin Mustang. He checked-out in the Republic F-84 Thunderjet and, in late 1950, flew in two pioneering mass ferry flights across the Atlantic to Europe. Four days after returning from the second crossing, Jackson deployed to Korea and flew the Thunderjet on 107 combat missions. Upon his return from the Korean War, he served at Headquarters, Second Air Force. There, he co-developed a bomb-tossing method to deliver nuclear weapons from fighter aircraft. Strategic Air Command (SAC) later adopted his technique for use by Boeing B-47 Stratojet bombers.
In 1956, Jackson became one of the first Air Force pilots to fly the top-secret Lockheed U-2 Dragonlady, and commanded several reconnaissance detachments around the world. He moved to Headquarters SAC in 1960 and planned and directed aerial reconnaissance over Cuba. His work played a key role during the Cuban Missile Crisis, the peak of the "Cold War," and led to withdrawal of Soviet offensive nuclear weapons. Jackson attended Air War College (AWC), then completed a staff tour in Europe, before assignment to South Vietnam. He piloted the Fairchild C-123 Provider on 298 combat sorties. On one, under intense fire, he made a dramatic approach and landing at Kham Duc airfield to rescue a desperate three-man combat control team left behind during an earlier evacuation.
Jackson's valor and skill earned him the United States' highest military award, the Congressional Medal of Honor. He later served in the Pentagon and on the AWC faculty before retiring with nearly 33 years in the Air Force. He joined the Boeing Company and developed training programs for the Imperial Iranian Air Force. Jackson was inducted into both the Airlift-Tanker Hall of Fame and the Georgia Aviation Hall of Fame. Georgia also honored him by naming a main road through his hometown the "Joe M. Jackson Highway." Now retired, Colonel Jackson lives in Washington with his wife, Rosamond.
Three men of a USAF Combat Control Team were stranded and under heavy fire at Kham Duc Airfield, Vietnam. Wreckage littered the runway and ammunition dumps exploded as Jackson slammed his C-123 down in an assault landing. As he spun about, the three men raced for the aircraft, firing all the way. Lined up for departure, Jackson narrowly avoided an incoming rocket, and executed a short field takeoff under increasing fire. Spending less than 1 minute on the field, his heroic action saved three men from capture or death earning him the Medal of Honor.