Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Brass Ones

Colonel Joe M. Jackson, USAF (Retired)
Medal of Honor
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 pilot of a C-123 aircraft. Lt. Col. Jackson volunteered to attempt the rescue of a 3-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, 8 aircraft had been destroyed by the intense enemy fire and 1 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 1 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 fellowmen, 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.
President Johnson congratulates Medal of Honor recipients at the White House on January 16, 1969. Lt. Col. Joe M. Jackson (on Johnson's left) and Major Stephen W. Pless (on Johnson's right) were both natives of the same small town of Newnan, Georgia and were both being honored for daring air rescues in Vietnam.
As you might know, I've been chasing the story of the Battle of Kham Duc in Vietnam. Lots of stuff to read, some of it is tainted by political bias, some of it is good stuff. What Juvat likes to call my (ahem) authoritative source is not always that reliable.

I will use the verbiage from time to time if it's clear, concise and direct. But only if I have cross checked it with other sources or if it's a subject I consider myself an authority on and I feel that the Wikipedia article is untainted and accurate.

Hell, I'll take slightly tainted as long as it's accurate.

But while researching the Battle of Kham Duc I keep seeing the words "heroic" and "brave." So while I'm still trying to fit this battle into the overall context of things happening within and without Vietnam, I had to relate Colonel Jackson's Medal of Honor award.

This succinct account says it well...


That aircraft circled in yellow is that of Lt Col Jackson at Kham Duc, under fire, taxiing for take-off. (Source)

Fairchild C-123K Provider, same type of aircraft flown by Col Jackson at Kham Duc
(U.S. Air Force Photo by Sgt. Rozalyn Dorsey)

There will be more to come on Kham Duc, but I want to make sure I get it right.

Those who fell there deserve that much.

Colonel Jackson. Brass ones.

Big brass ones.


  1. I remember reading about this in Air Force Magazine shortly after it happened. I also remember thinking that it took some guts to do it.

    The pictures (and drawing) of the Colonel reinforce my confusion. Movies have built the "look" of a hero. Very few of the actual Heroes I've met or read about look like Conan the Barbarian or even John Wayne. They tend to look like regular folk. Col Jackson looks like someone's friendly grandfather. Yet, he gulped twice and flew towards the sound of the guns.

    Large Brass Ones, indeed!

    1. The Colonel's picture struck me the same way, a friendly grandfather, not some "super warrior."

      You can't just a book by its cover.

  2. Replies
    1. Not to my knowledge, I looked but didn't see any mention of the crew.

    2. According to this site there were also 3 Air Force Crosses awarded for valor that day. One was to a Major Jesse W. Campbell. Details of the Citation are very similar to Col Jackson's to include the rocket failing to explode. Perhaps he was the co-pilot.
      The other two Air Force Crosses went to two C-130 pilots for similar actions albeit with 130s.

    3. Great site, thanks Juvat.

      It has to be the same action, details are too similar to be coincidental.

    4. I didn't pay attention and see the paginator at the top of the site. There was another Air Force Cross awarded on that day. LtCol Alfred Jeanotte flew a second C-123 but couldn't land. From the citation, it appears he acted as a "FAC": for Col Jackson. Perhaps he took the picture you've got of Col Jackson's aircraft on the ground.

    5. I'll have to go back and read that. Good assumption though as to who took the photo.

  3. God bless him.

    I love reading your history posts. You make things come alive in ways I usually don't encounter.

    Regarding Wikipedia: Great resource for the big picture on things, but always best to cross-reference, if possible. As you probably know, I do some work as a fact checker for Discover magazine. One of the first things I was told was that Wikipedia would NOT be accepted as a definitive source. I was told that it could be extremely useful for an overview of any subject I with which I wasn't familiar, and the references at the bottom of any article could end up being a good source, but on its own, no.

    1. Excellent points Suldog. Some Wikipedia articles are quite good, others, not so much.

      And seeing as how you are a professional, I defer to your wisdom in these things.

  4. Those last two days were even worse than that photo depicts--especially for fast movers. I flew 4 sorties out of DaNang in support as the GIB of the flight lead each time. The wx was heavy clouds w. gnd fog plus smoke from constant wpns fire all combining to almost totally obscure any tgts, plus one had to drop down in IMC conditions blind over the ridge-line into the valley before breaking out into vmc conditions that were FAR from "in the clear" w. only seconds to acquire a tgt before taking heavy gnd fire. (And don't forget to reset the altimeter prior to approaching the mountains prior to letdown!) And then a quick pull-up to clear the oppo ridge-line and egress the hot tgt area. Fun all around..

    1. Sounds, um, exciting?

      (Way too exciting...)

    2. Sarge, those are the kind of msns where you come back and while taxiing in, think "Damn, I knew I should have worn my brown flt suit today!" :)

  5. PS: W.O. the O-2 FACS from DaNang, O-1s from Quang Ngai City and O-2s from Pleiku to talk us down into tgt area, point out direction of gnd-fire and mark tgts we would have been totally worthless.. Those guys ALL has big brass ones as they had to operate well below the magic 1500' minimums to avoid small arms gnd fire because of wx conditions.

  6. Yep, he and a lot of others clanked when they walked... In answer to WSF, normally the aircrew 'might' have received a lesser medal for the event where a MOH was given. The Navy LT on the left in the photo with Johnson was LT Clyde Lassen. His two crewmen, ADJ3 West and AE2 Dallas got Silver Stars for their part in the rescue.

  7. Funny thing, for an action which produced an MOH and a slew of DSCs & Silver stars, knowledge of the Kham Duc battle seems to have never made it contemporaneously state-side into the general consciousness of the American public--or even to many in every branch of the armed services save for those (like me) who were directly involved.

    1. From my research so far I think it was part of the general malaise surrounding Tet. After all, the "journalists" like Cronkite had already surrendered. That particular individual did NOT cover himself with glory.

      Your comment was the first I'd heard of Kham Duc, haven't written the post yet because there's just too much to read and digest. Our men fought well.

    2. Virgil, I 'think' it got lumped into the Tet offensive and unless somebody actually digs that up, it kinda goes by the wayside. If I remember correctly, and that's a LOOSE assumption, by 68, very few of the reporters were ever leaving Saigon, most were relying on the press releases from MAC-V. And the threat of dying in Saigon could have prevented any reporter from going into the field.

    3. Virgil, I 'think' it got lumped into the Tet offensive and unless somebody actually digs that up, it kinda goes by the wayside. If I remember correctly, and that's a LOOSE assumption, by 68, very few of the reporters were ever leaving Saigon, most were relying on the press releases from MAC-V. And the threat of dying in Saigon could have prevented any reporter from going into the field.


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