City pays tribute to men and women in uniform at special event

by: REVIEW PHOTO: VERN UYETAKE - Lt. Col. Joe Jackson has received many tributes in recent years. But he wanted to pay tribute to current American military people in Lake Oswego on Tuesday. A Rosarian, right, chats up jackson.For a long time in his long career, Joe Jackson was like the Rodney Dangerfield of the U.S. military service: He got no respect.

“When I came back from Korea, there was no one to meet me,” Jackson said. “When I came back from Vietnam, they threw rocks at me.”

But in recent years Jackson has been getting the recognition he deserves. The former lieutenant colonel in the United States Air Force was the guest of honor at the American Military Celebration event, sponsored by the Lake Oswego Republican Women’s Club, held Tuesday at the Lake Oswego Country Club. The large gathering stood and applauded for Jackson, and later they stood and applauded for the great honor that Jackson had won: Congressional Medal of Honor.

Getting Jackson to attend the event was a big “get” for event organizer Jerry Ghiglieri.

“I wanted (Lt.) Col. Jackson because he has received the highest honor our nation can give,” Ghiglieri said. “You can’t do better than that.”

Jackson’s reception in Lake Oswego sure beat silence and rocks. The 91-year-old veteran, now a resident of Kent, Wash., can no longer attend as many military appreciation events as he would like, but he said, “I attend all I feel I can handle. I wanted to be here today because military people don’t get all of the recognition they deserve.”

It wasn’t military glory that Jackson sought in 1941 when he enlisted in the Air Force as a raw 18-year-old kid from Georgia. He wanted to learn the trade of being an airplane mechanic. But he soon felt the call to become a pilot, and he enrolled to become an aviation cadet in 1943. It was the beginning of a 30-year career in the American military.

Although he kept busy flying on various missions in the States during World War II, Jackson did not see any combat action. That situation changed drastically in the Korean War when Jackson flew on 107 combat missions.

“I was shot at quite regularly,” Jackson said. “It was very dangerous. But you do what you’re assigned to do.”

It was the Vietnam War, however, where Jackson brushed off death and achieved glory. He never came under heavier fire than when he fought in the Battle of Kham Duc in 1968, an endless onslaught of air strikes, mortar, rocket and machine-gun fire. Jackson’s assignment was to transport United Nations troops to safety. Unfortunately, three soldiers missed getting the message and were left behind as the last rescue plane headed for the U.S. lines without them. The three men were finally spotted, and Jackson and his crew, flying in a C-130 Provider, were ordered to make a desperate mission — rescuing the three men under gunfire that increased the closer Jackson flew to the stranded soldiers. He could barely land, not only because of the hail of lead but because of the smashed helicopters that laid nearby. Somehow, Jackson was able to turn the plane in the direction of the sprinting men, who clambered through the cargo door.

No one was safe yet. Jackson still had to dodge rockets and shells on a drastically reduced runway before the shuddering Provider finally lifted off and headed for home.

Jackson later wrote to his wife Rosie, “I had an extremely exciting mission today.”

On Jan. 16, 1969, the Medal of Honor was placed around Jackson’s neck. He was lucky, of course. He was also a great pilot and most of all, he was very brave. He was one of the nation’s best.

Lake Oswego loves a man in uniform, thanks to Ghiglieri, and all five branches of the American military service were honored, along with Lake Oswego’s police officers and firefighters, on Tuesday. Representatives from the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines and Coast Guard, many of them young people serving in current American military conflicts, got up to take their well-deserved bows before the crowd.

But it was Lt. Col. Joe Jackson who was the center of attention.

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