Monday, March 20, 2017

"Poor is the country that boasts no heroes, but beggared is that people who, having them, forgets.” *

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:

For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity in action at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty. Col. Jones distinguished himself as the pilot of an A-1H Skyraider aircraft near Dong Hoi, North Vietnam. On that day, as the on-scene commander in the attempted rescue of a downed U.S. pilot, Col. Jones' aircraft was repeatedly hit by heavy and accurate antiaircraft fire. On one of his low passes, Col. Jones felt an explosion beneath his aircraft and his cockpit rapidly filled with smoke. With complete disregard of the possibility that his aircraft might still be burning, he unhesitatingly continued his search for the downed pilot. On this pass, he sighted the survivor and a multiple-barrel gun position firing at him from near the top of a karst formation. He could not attack the gun position on that pass for fear he would endanger the downed pilot. Leaving himself exposed to the gun position, Col. Jones attacked the position with cannon and rocket fire on 2 successive passes. On his second pass, the aircraft was hit with multiple rounds of automatic weapons fire. One round impacted the Yankee Extraction System rocket mounted directly behind the headrest, igniting the rocket. His aircraft was observed to burst into flames in the center fuselage section, with flames engulfing the cockpit area. He pulled the extraction handle, jettisoning the canopy. The influx of fresh air made the fire burn with greater intensity for a few moments, but since the rocket motor had already burned, the extraction system did not pull Col. Jones from the aircraft. Despite searing pains from severe burns sustained on his arms, hands, neck, shoulders, and face, Col. Jones pulled his aircraft into a climb and attempted to transmit the location of the downed pilot and the enemy gun position to the other aircraft in the area. His calls were blocked by other aircraft transmissions repeatedly directing him to bail out and within seconds his transmitters were disabled and he could receive only on 1 channel. Completely disregarding his injuries, he elected to fly his crippled aircraft back to his base and pass on essential information for the rescue rather than bail out. Col. Jones successfully landed his heavily damaged aircraft and passed the information to a debriefing officer while on the operating table. As a result of his heroic actions and complete disregard for his personal safety, the downed pilot was rescued later in the day. Col. Jones' profound concern for his fellow man 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.


* Cited here as a quotation contained in Col Jones' Book "Maxims for Men-At-Arms" published by Dorrance  & Co of Philadelphia.


  1. Such bravery should be lauded and remembered for all time.

  2. juvat: Thank you for informing me about this outstanding American.

    Paul L. Quandt

  3. "Loaded for Bear"!

    I just can't even... So offensive. Luckily it was nobody I knew.

  4. So other aircraft were blocking the frequencies to tell him to bail out? Something he assuredly already knew, and he could have decided on his own! Luckily for Carter 02 he didn't, even if his rescue was delayed. Sad that the luck didn't hold out later for Col Jones.

    1. Yeah, that was my the basis for my comment on radio discipline. One call is appropriate. "Spad Lead, you're on fire!" Anything beyond is comm jamming.

  5. Thank you for doing these posts on the Metal of Honor recipients as I haven't ever heard much if anything about these heroes, and find it very interesting. Sad that he crashed on his way home to family!

    1. Thanks. Yeah, I didn't include the info, but he'd just found out (informally) that he was receiving the Medal and had also found out that his book (from which the title of my post was chosen) had been picked up for publishing. Top of the World and then....
      The accident investigation didn't find anything mechanically wrong with the airplane, so the supposition is something happened to him.

  6. Thanks Juvat. I'd never heard this tale before. That makes today one of those days when I realize what an honor it is to simply breathe the same air and walk the same planet.

    1. Be nice to get a copy of that book, too. Lowest price I've found so far is $2,500.

    2. Thanks, and I agree. One of my Dad's friends from Webb was a Spad pilot, got shot up and brought the Airplane back to NKP. Got it on the ground and it started on fire. He received 3rd degree burns on his face and upper chest. Much reconstructive surgery and scars. Medically retired after "recovery". He was my stockbroker until he passed. Hence the comments about AVGAS.

    3. I didn't even get that far on the search for the book. Where did you find it?

    4. Amazon. Found out by accident that you have to put the hyphens in men-at-arms.

  7. Thanks for an excellent Monday blog. I like the statement "Poor is the country that boasts no heroes,
    but beggared is that people who, having them, forgets.” Our country tends to forget about our hero's
    unless they are a singer or movie star so it is up to us to keep their memories alive!

    R.I.P. Colonel Jones!!

  8. Hearing about his demise reminds me of those guys who survived Iraq or Afghanistan only to die in a stupid bar fight shortly after getting home. Or Chris Kyle.

    I have come to believe that when your number is up, it is up.

    Certainly it would have been understood had he broken off the search and tried to save himself.

    More than a few pilots in Vietnam would want to kiss an A-1 or Jolly Green Giant...

    1. The Spads were gone by the time I was flying fighters. But... The Jolly Crews NEVER bought a round that I can recall. (Kissing might be a bit much...buying a round, however, was ok.)

  9. Over and above any possible expectations... May he rest in peace!

  10. Another excellent story of a warrior, thanks Juvat! I worked with some Spads a few times in gunfights and later studied a little about the A-1 (AD in Navy talk). What a neat airplane to work with, especially when the "do-bads" aren't expecting one to roll in after kinda duking it out with a Charlie Model. If I may suggest, Richard Drury's "My Secret War" for a pretty good insight into the world of the Spad/Sandy fighter pilots. regards, Alemaster


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