Medal of Honor recipients are humbled, honored to be on wall

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Two of the nation’s 76 living Medal of Honor recipients said they were “honored and humbled” to be on hand for Tuesday’s unveiling of the 58th Special Operations Wing’s Medal of Honor Wall inside the wing’s headquarters building at Kirtland Air Force Base.

Retired Air Force Col. Joe M. Jackson, 93, poses Tuesday at the unveiling of his portrait on the 58th Special Operations Wing's Medal of Honor Wall at Kirtland Air Force Base.

Retired Air Force Col. Joe M. Jackson, 93, poses Tuesday at the unveiling of his portrait on the 58th Special Operations Wing’s Medal of Honor Wall at Kirtland Air Force Base.

Retired Air Force Cols. Joe M. Jackson, 93, and James P. Fleming, 73, received the nation’s highest military award for harrowing rescues in Vietnam, and are the first two Medal of Honor recipients to have their portraits displayed on the wall.

“Only 18 airmen, since the Air Force was created 69 years ago … have received the Medal of Honor,” Col. Brenda Cartier, who has commanded the 58th since July, told about 50 Air Force officers and enlisted airmen attending the unveiling. “Fourteen of them received them during the Vietnam War. Half of them, seven, were from the rescue or special operations forces.”

“We are very honored today to have two of those seven” present for the unveiling, Cartier said.

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The 58th Special Operations Wing, which employs about 1,800 personnel, trains about 1,400 military personnel a year in special operations and combat search-and-rescue missions. Its trainees are enrolled in 113 training courses for 32 different crew positions on a variety of helicopters, air transports and tilt-rotor aircraft.

Cartier said the idea for a wall honoring Air Force search-and-rescue and special operations personnel who have received the Medal of Honor initiated with her predecessor, Col. Dagvin “Dag” Anderson. Anderson is currently assigned as special assistant to the commander at Yongsan Garrison, South Korea.

Anderson, Cartier said, “envisioned this wall as a permanent symbol of our heritage and an embodiment of the warrior ethos that the 58th Special Operations Wing seeks to instill in our students and each other.”

Cartier said the wall eventually will include portraits of five of Jackson’s and Fleming’s Medal of Honor colleagues.

Retired Air Force Col. James P. Fleming, 73, poses Tuesday at the unveiling of his portrait on the 58th Special Operations Wing's Medal of Honor Wall at Kirtland Air Force Base.

Retired Air Force Col. James P. Fleming, 73, poses Tuesday at the unveiling of his portrait on the 58th Special Operations Wing’s Medal of Honor Wall at Kirtland Air Force Base.

“Their portraits, and five more to come, serve as a daily reminder of why we work to train the world’s best special operations and rescue airmen,” she said.

Rescue under enemy fire

Jackson, a native of Newnan, Ga., served in World War II and Korea before deploying to Vietnam. He received his Medal of Honor for rescuing a three-man Combat Control Team from a Special Forces camp at Kham Duc, South Vietnam, that had been overrun by enemy forces on May 12, 1968.

Although the enemy had established gun positions along the camp’s airstrip and were raking the camp with mortar, automatic weapons and recoilless rifle fire, Jackson landed his Fairchild C-123 Provider transport plane on the debris-strewn runway. While on the ground, the C-123 was pelted by intense hostile fire, and a rocket landed in front of the plane’s nose but failed to explode. Once the combat control team was aboard, Jackson managed to get the plane airborne and back to safety.

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Jackson said he served “32 years, 9 months and 14 days” in the military, and now resides in Kent, Wash.

Fired on and low on fuel

Fleming, a native of Sedalia, Mo., received the Medal of Honor for rescuing a six-man Special Forces reconnaissance patrol near Duc Co, South Vietnam, on Nov. 26, 1968. Although one helicopter had been shot down attempting the rescue, Fleming landed his UH-1F Huey chopper on a river bank – balancing the tail boom over the river – while the patrol members scrambled aboard. Despite a barrage of enemy fire that peppered the helicopter and shattered its windshield, and being dangerously low on fuel, Fleming flew the men to safety.

Fleming served in the Air Force for 30 years and lives in Manvel, Texas.

The five other Medal of Honor recipients slated for inclusion on the wall are: Lt. Col. William A. Jones III; Airman 1st Class John L. Levitow; Maj. Bernard F. Fisher; Capt. Gerald O. Young; and Airman 1st Class William H. Pitsenbarger.

The wall also includes name tags for 59 former students and members of the 58th Special Operations Wing who lost their lives in the performance of their duties, according to wing officials.

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