LTC JOE M. JACKSON
311th Air Commando Squadron,
Special Forces Camp
Kham Duc, RVN
12 May 1968.
When a three-man team Special Forces Combat Control Team called for immediate evacuation from the SF Camp at Kham Duc, LTC Jackson volunteered to fly the mission.
Viet Nam wasn’t Jackson’s first war; in fact, it was his third. Jackson was an experienced pilot by the time he arrived in Vietnam. He enlisted in the Army Air Corps during World War II as a crew chief (mechanic) but earned Pilots wings and a commission through an aviation cadet commissioning program.
Jackson flew P-40 Warhawks, and P-63 Kingcobras in combat then remained in the newly formed Air Force. During the Korean War, Jackson transitioned to Jets flying 107 combat missions in the F-84 Thunderjet.
Jackson was assigned to Cargo aircraft but volunteered for Special Operations Aviation Assigned to the 311th Air Commando Squadron, Jackson Deployed to Southeast Asia. The C-123 proved the perfect aircraft for Special Operations missions, landing in tiny jungle clearings and on the short airstrips in enemy-controlled territory.
LTC Jackson became an expert in such operations.
The camp at Kham Duc, was under siege, enemy forces over-ran the forward outposts and set up gun emplacements covering the airfield from both ends. The entire camp was being pummeled with mortar and rocket fire leaving eight aircraft burning on the flight-line. The fire turned the area into an inferno of exploding ordinance.
Debris littered the runway, and the weather was deteriorating rapidly, leaving time for but one airstrike before LTC Jackson needed to get on the ground to exfil the team. The odds of success were minimal. In complete disregard for the likelihood of failure resulting in Death or capture, Jackson chose to attempt the rescue.
Superb piloting skills and unusual heroism were the rule of the day.
Jackson flew through a hail of hostile fire as he landed his bird near the point where the combat control team was reported to be hiding. The enemy focused their guns on the aircraft as the team loaded up.
Once his brothers were all aboard, somehow, Lt. Col. Jackson succeeded in getting his shot to hell airplane through the steady barrage of enemy fire and off the ground. The sound of air rushing in the bullet holes made the aircraft sound like a flying harmonica as it landed at the nearest friendly airfield. LTC Jackson never flinched. He knew the three men on the ground would have been killed or captured if they couldn’t exfil. Jackson would not allow that to happen.
LTC Joe Jackson passed in January of 2019, at the age of 95.
I would love to have been there to see Michael and the Aviation Section do their Fly-Bye as Jackson arrived.