Joe M. 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. In 1950, Jackson made a significant contribution to jet fighter instrument flying with his tear-drop jet penetration procedure, which was quickly adopted across the Air Force. That year he also transitioned to the Republic F84 Thunderjet and 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 12 May 1968, under intense fire, he made a dramatic approach and landing at Kham Duc airfield in his unarmed C-123 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 on 16 January 1969. He later served in the Pentagon and on the Air War College 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. Colonel Jackson was inducted into the Georgia Aviation Hall of Fame, the Airlift/Tanker Association Hall of Fame, and the Combat Airman Hall of Fame. Upon retirement from the Air Force, he worked for the Boeing Company, from which he retired in 1985. Georgia also honored him by naming a main road through his hometown the “Joe M. Jackson Highway.”
Colonel Jackson was first selected as an Eagle by Air Command and Staff College’s Gathering of Eagles in 1991 and subsequently honored in 2000, 2002, 2009, and 2010.