Joe Madison Jackson MOH

b. 14/03/1923 Newnan, Georgia. d. 12/01/2019 Orting, Washington.

DATE OF MOH ACTION: 12/05/1968 Kham Duc, Vietnam.

Joe M Jackson MOH

Jackson was born on March 14, 1923, and grew up in Newnan, Georgia. He enlisted in the Army Air Corps right out of high school in March 1941 because he said he’d always wanted to be an aircraft mechanic. He worked in that field until he happened to be on a flight where the plane caught fire. His knowledge of the plane’s mechanics helped land the aircraft, and that’s when he decided to become a pilot himself.

Jackson was commissioned as a pilot in April 1943. The rest of his World War II experience was spent training aircraft gunners, but by the end of the Korean War, he had flown more than 100 missions as a fighter pilot. As the 1950s progressed, he also became one of the first pilots of the U-2 spy planes. Jackson continued his military career into the 1960s and deployed to Vietnam as a lieutenant colonel.

On May 12, 1968, he was the commander of a detachment of C-123 Provider cargo planes that was called in to help evacuate Kham Duc, a Special Forces forward outpost that had been overrun. Several airplanes had been shot down over the camp. The airstrip was littered with flames and debris, as well as gun positions established by the overrunning hostile forces.

Late in the day, as the weather was deteriorating, Jackson was circling the base in his C-123 when he learned that a three-man Air Force combat control team had inadvertently been left behind. Another C-123 ahead of his tried to rescue the men. That plane located where they were hiding but wasn’t able to pick them up.

Knowing their location, Jackson volunteered to go back in for them. He threw his plane into a deep dive, dropping 9,000 feet through intense hostile fire.

“I was the luckiest guy in the world. I was able to touch down in the first 100 feet and able to stop that airplane exactly opposite the three guys,” Jackson explained in an interview he did many years later.

As the three-man team jumped aboard his C-123, Jackson said a rocket that had been fired directly toward them skidded to a stop right by the plane’s nose — and didn’t go off. He taxied around the dud rocket, flipped around on the runway and took off as the enemy continued to fire. Once they landed safely at Da Nang Air Base, Jackson checked to see how badly the plane was damaged. It turned out that not a single bullet hit it.

Jackson received the Medal of Honor on January 16, 1969, from President Lyndon B. Johnson. He said he also received a copy of a photo taken on his mission — the only reconnaissance plane photo ever taken of a Medal of Honor action as it happened.

Jackson flew nearly 300 combat missions in Vietnam, returning to the U.S. to finish out his career as a colonel in 1974. He later worked for Boeing and settled down in Washington with his wife and two children. On April 22, 1978, the Georgia Army National Guard Armory in Newnan, Georgia, was dedicated in honor of Jackson and another local Medal of Honor recipient, Marine Corps Maj. Stephen Pless, who received his medal the same day as Jackson.



For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity in action at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty. Lt. Col. Jackson distinguished himself as a pilot of a C-123 aircraft. Lt. Col. Jackson volunteered to attempt the rescue of a three-man USAF Combat Control Team from the Special Forces camp at Kham Duc. Hostile forces had overrun the forward outpost and established gun positions on the airstrip. They were raking the camp with small-arms, mortars, light and heavy automatic-weapons, and recoilless-rifle fire. The camp was engulfed in flames and ammunition dumps were continuously exploding and littering the runway with debris. 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. To further complicate the landing, the weather was deteriorating rapidly, thereby permitting only one air strike prior to his landing. Although fully aware of the extreme danger and likely failure of such an attempt, Lt. Col. Jackson elected to land his aircraft and attempt to rescue. Displaying superb airmanship and extraordinary heroism, he landed his aircraft near the point where the combat control team was reported to be hiding. While on the ground, his aircraft was the target of intense hostile fire. A rocket landed in front of the nose of the aircraft but failed to explode. Once the combat control team was aboard, Lt. Col. Jackson succeeded in getting airborne despite the hostile fire directed across the runway in front of his aircraft. Lt. Col. Jackson’s profound concern for his fellow men, at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty, are in keeping with the highest traditions of the U.S. Air Force and reflect great credit upon himself and the Armed Forces of his country.