With any luck at all, my Family and I will have just returned from a bit of vacation touring the Whisky Distilleries in the Highlands of Scotland. Therefore, I have prepositioned this post in anticipation of being in recovery mode and unable to compose the prose in a timely manner for publication on my stated schedule.
Update: While we're going to refer to this trip as the "Tour of Unfortunate Events", we are home safely. The formal AAR will be published in the near future, after collating pictures from several sources. However, here is the Trip Summary.
Now, on with our regularly scheduled programming.
As regular readers of this blog are aware when I'm at a loss for subjects (aka Frequently) or pressed for time, I have a habit of posting about Air Force Medal of Honor Recipients. I think the masthead quote is as good a reason as any for choosing this subject, and I regret that prior to starting to post on this subject, my knowledge of the history of a large portion of the 60 Recipients was nonexistent.
|Col William A. Jones III (as an Aviation Cadet)|
One of those Recipients, whom we are about to learn a bit more about, is Col William A Jones III. Unfortunately, there isn't a lot written, beyond his citation (below) about the man and the actions that led to his receiving the Nation's Highest Award for valor "above and beyond the call of duty". My initial reaction on reading the histories I could find were along the lines of "brave...but Medal of Honor?". Then I found this post and this one.
I was wrong.
So, without further ado, let's learn a bit more about this Warrior.
Col Jones was commissioned from West Point and got his wings on July 4th, 1945. Prior to Vietnam, he flew a plethora of aircraft including B-25s, B-24s, and B-47s. In 1965, after completing Air War College, he was assigned to the Pentagon, and on completion, in order to return to flying, he volunteered to fly A-1s, knowing that would result in an assignment to Vietnam. (To be frank, I understand his mindset and likely would have done the same.)
|A-1H Loaded for Bear|
In 1968, he had completed his checkout and was given command of the 602nd Special Operations Squadron at Nakhon Phanom Royal Thai AB.
|The squadron was renamed shortly after Col Jones' mission|
The action we're about to discuss took place along the Ho Chi Minh trail near the DMZ. A pair of F-4s (Carter 01 and 02) had been shot down and a rescue mission was in place. Col Jones was leading a flight of A-1s charged with locating the survivors, protecting them and the rescue helicopters and then escorting the helicopters back to base. Nakhon Phanom (NKP) is right on the border of Thailand and Laos and is approximately 90 miles from the rescue area.
The crew of Carter 01 were quickly picked up and returned to base. The pilot of Carter 02 had safely landed and the rescue forces are in contact via radio. His backseater was never heard from again.
One of the things drilled into Aircrew during survival training is to use the time in the chute wisely. Those few minutes descending will be the last time you get to look around and get your bearings. You should look for landmarks, enemy forces, roads, inhabited area and potential hiding places. Everybody on the ground is officially "not your friend."
So, Carter 02A apparently has taken that training to heart and found a hiding place near the base of some Karst (tall jagged chunks of rock mountains). As nobody was airborne as he descended, nobody knew his precise location. Neither the bad guys, nor the good guys.
This is good and bad. Good--The bad guys can't find your pink butt immediately. Bad--The good guys have to locate your pink butt without indicating to the bad guys where it is.
A bit of a chess game is being played. To further complicate this situation, the weather is crummy with low ceilings and the area is extremely mountainous. A FAC, also working the mission, has advised the rescue forces that the bad buys have several 37mm AAA guns in the area as well as numerous smaller caliber AAA sites.
|Col Jones in his A-1H|
So, enter Col Jones.
The opening move in this operation is to locate the survivor. Given this is jungle, seeing him from the air is unlikely. The A-1s will have to fly over the area receiving vectors from the survivor as to where he is either from his visual on them or more frequently from the sounds of the aircraft in relation to him.
This takes time. The bad guys will use that time to 1) locate and capture the survivor and 2) bring up more defenses.
But...It's got to be done.
Col Jones works the area flying slowly with aircraft maneuvering further restricted by weather and terrain.
As he's making one of these passes, he feels an explosion beneath the aircraft and his cockpit fills with smoke.
Now, unlike a jet which is filled with JP-4 (essentially kerosene), an A-1 uses high octane AVGAS, which is much more flammable than JP-4, and more prone to explosion when exposed to flame.
His aircraft has been hit, there's smoke in the cockpit, so he may be on fire and he's flying an aircraft where that fire could easily ignite the fuel. What does Col Jones do?
He continues to search for the survivor for another 10-15 minutes.
At some point, the survivor radios that Col Jones is directly over head. He's now located. However,simultaneously with that call, a AAA gun on the top of the Karst where the survivor is hiding opens fire at Col Jones.
Col Jones realizes that the Jolly Greens cannot come in and recover the survivor until that gun is destroyed, but given the survivor's proximity, there's no way to call in an airstrike, as a short bomb could land on the survivor.
Col Jones elects to attack the site with his rockets and guns.
On his second pass, his aircraft is hit again and the rocket to his ejection system is hit and ignites. He attempts to eject, which causes the canopy to separate, but the rocket which lifts the seat out of the aircraft has been destroyed. Ejection is impossible.
However, as all this excitement is going down, he sights the survivor.
As he exits the immediate area, in an aircraft that's visibly on fire, he attempts to communicate the survivor's location to the remainder of the rescue forces, but the radio is blocked by calls that he's on fire and needs to bail out.
By the time the fires are extinguished and radio discipline reestablished, he is without transmission capability on his radio. Additionally, he is severely burned. He elects to return to NKP. Much of his instruments have been shot away and the aircraft is badly damaged. His wingman rejoins on him and he flies the rest of the way home on his wing.
|This was apparently the actual aircraft Col Jones flew. Unfortunately it was shot down on 22 Sep 1972 as the last Skyraider lost in Vietnam|
Upon recovery at NKP, he refuses treatment for his burns until he can communicate the survivors location so the rescue operation could continue. Ultimately his sacrifice was worth it as the survivor was rescued later that day.
Col Jones was medically evacuated to Ft Sam to recover from his burns. Eventually he was returned to flying status and was unoffically notified that he would receive the Medal of Honor. As he was flying his personal aircraft home to be with his wife and children, the plane crashed and Col Jones perished. President Nixon presented the Medal to his widow in a ceremony on 6 August 1970
Rest in Peace, Warrior!
Col Jones Citation:
* Cited here as a quotation contained in Col Jones' Book "Maxims for Men-At-Arms" published by Dorrance & Co of Philadelphia.