Joe Madison Jackson was born in Newnan, Coweta County, Georgia on March 14, 1923. As a young man he developed an interest in model aircraft which led to his enlistment in the Army Air Corps at age 18.
Colonel Jackson died on January 12, 2019, and is buried in Arlington National Cemetery.
On 12 May 1968, Lieutenant Colonel Joe M. Jackson, commander of an unarmed C-123 transport aircraft, flew from Da Nang to Kham Duc, South Vietnam, on an emergency mission. A Special Forces camp at Kham Duc was being overrun by enemy forces. They had taken the forward outpost and were in complete control of the airstrip. Located in a valley, the airstrip was surrounded on all sides by mountainous terrain.
While orbiting over the battle area Colonel Jackson learned by radio that in the evacuation of the camp by air a three-man Combat Control Team had inadvertently been left behind. Another C-123 transport was ahead of Colonel Jackson in the traffic pattern. The aircraft landed successfully on the airstrip littered with debris, including a wrecked helicopter, but failed to evacuate the team.
Colonel Jackson then descended rapidly from 9,000 feet and made an assault landing on the strip under heavy enemy fire. After he stopped, a rocket fell in front of the transport. A dud, it bounced harmlessly toward the nose of the plane without exploding. Colonel Jackson had landed near the spot where the three men had been reported to be hiding. With the team safely on board, he quickly took off under a mortar barrage and intense automatic weapons fire from the surrounding hills. After landing at Da Nang the crew found that not a single bullet had touched their aircraft during the entire flight.
Colonel Jackson was awarded the Medal of Honor for rescuing the three-man team. The presentation was made by President Lyndon B. Johnson at the White House on 16 January 1969.
Just nine months after his enlistment World War II started and he was assigned to serve aboard a B-25 bomber as its crew chief. After serving as the crew chief he entered Aviation Cadet training and became a commissioned officer. During World War II he gained experience in many different aircraft, but by the end of the war he was a B-24 bomber pilot.
During the Korean War Jackson flew over 100 combat missions in an F-84 Thunderjet fighter. In addition to his Korean War experience he made a number of important contributions to U. S. aviation including:
Discovering a formulaic method of navigating an aircraft back to base in poor weather.
Developing Standard Jet Penetration, a popular method of landing a jet aircraft with low ceilings and low visibility.
Developing mass transoceanic ferrying flights.
Creating a bomb-throwing method allowing nuclear weapons to be delivered by fighter aircraft.
Planning and directing aerial reconnaissance over Cuba during the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962.
Becoming one of the first Air Force pilots to fly the U-2 Dragonlady reconnaissance aircraft.
During the Vietnam War Jackson was assigned to fly the C-123 Provider over South Vietnam. He flew 298 combat missions during this period, but it was his rescue mission on May 12, 1968, during the Battle of Kham Duc that earned him the nation’s highest award for military valor.
Jackson continued to serve on active duty in the Air Force, both at the Pentagon and as a member of the faculty of the Air War College. He retired after 33 years of active-duty service. He resided in the state of Washington. On May 14, 2010, NBC News highlighted his weekly contributions to a local church that provides meals to the hungry.
Shown here are the medals Lieutenant Colonel Jackson earned during his career. They include:
In 1997, Col. Jackson was inducted into the Airlift/Tanker Hall of Fame. In 1998, Jackson was inducted into the Georgia Aviation Hall of Fame. A section of Georgia State Route 34 in Coweta County, Georgia is named for Colonel Jackson.
A marker has been placed outside the courthouse in his hometown of Newnan, Georgia