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First Name: William

Last Name: Jones

Birthplace: Norfolk, VA, USA

Gender: Male

Branch: Air Force (1947 - present)

Home of Record: West Point, NY
Middle Name: Atkinson

Date of Birth: 31 May 1922

Date of Death: 15 November 1969

Rank: Colonel

Years Served: 1945 - 1969
William Atkinson Jones III

Graduate, U.S. Military Academy, Class of 1945

•  Vietnam War (1960 - 1973)


William Atkinson Jones III
Colonel, U.S. Air Force
Medal of Honor Recipient
Vietnam War

William Atkinson Jones III was born on 31 May 1922, in Norfolk, VA, the son of William A. Jones Jr., long time Commonwealth’s Attorney for Richmond County, VA. His grandfather also had been the Commonwealth’s Attorney for Richmond County prior to serving as a U.S. Congressman from the first Virginia District for over 28 years. Congressman Jones Sr. authored the bill that granted independence to the Philippines, and a huge memorial on his grave from the grateful people of the Philippines commemorates that fact.

Bill lived in Warsaw, VA, home of the Jones family since 1840, until he was seven. Then he spent most of his youth in the Charlottesville area, graduating from Lane High School under the able tutelage of his mother who instructed locally for many years at St. Anne’s Episcopal School for Girls. He had accelerated his education and graduated from the University of Virginia at the young age of 19 with a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Spanish, prior to entering West Point. He was appointed to the U.S. Military Academy with the class of 1945.

In June 1945, he was commissioned in the U.S. Army Air Forces and completed pilot training in Oklahoma and Stewart Field, NY. Transition flying schools followed at Douglas, AZ, (where he first met and courted his lovely wife-to-be, Lois McGregor of nearby Bisbee, AZ) Smyrna, TN, and Sebring, FL. He then served in the Philippines as a fighter pilot from 1946 to 1948. Returning to the U.S., Bill spent the next four years at Biggs AFB, TX, with the Strategic Air Command flying A-26, C-54, C-97, and C-124 aircraft. During this most enjoyable period, Bill and Lois were married and began their life together.

In 1952, he was assigned to Europe for four years with the 317th Troop Carrier Wing, flying principally C-119’s. He returned to the U.S. in 1956 and completed navigator training for pilots prior to being assigned to SAC again. He soon became a B-47 Aircraft Commander at Lake Charles AFB, LA, and later served at Pease AFB, NH, in the same capacity and, for two years, was Director of Controls for his Wing. In 1965 he departed for the Air War College, where he also received his Master’s degree in International Affairs. Duty at the Pentagon with the Air Staff followed; however, the administrative burdens of the Air Staff could not replace his strong desire to return to the cockpit and the operational scene. He volunteered for A-1H training at Hurlburt Field, FL.

Lt Col Jones was assigned to Southwest Asia in 1968, where he commanded the 602d Fighter Commando Squadron until he sustained his serious injuries over North Vietnam. On 1 September 1968, Jones led a flight of four A-1H Skyraider aircraft on an escort mission. The flight was accompanying two helicopters sent out to rescue the pilot of an F-4 Phantom downed about 20 miles northwest of Dong Hoi.

Arriving over the area, he made several low passes across a valley to find the pilot and pinpoint enemy gun positions. On one pass, he felt an explosion beneath his aircraft and his cockpit was filled with smoke. After the smoke cleared, he continued his search and finally spotted the downed pilot near a towering rock formation. Enemy gunners occupying a position near the top of the formation opened fire on his propeller-driven Skyraider.

Jones realized that the gun position had to be destroyed before a rescue could be made and that strikes against it would endanger the survivor unless his location was known. He attacked with cannon and rocket fire while relaying the pilot's location by radio. While making his second pass, his aircraft was hit and the cockpit was set ablaze. He sought to eject but the damaged extraction system only jettisoned the canopy without pulling him from the cockpit. At the same time, his transmissions to the rescue force were being blocked by repeated calls from other aircraft that he bail out. Before the fire died out, Jones was badly burned and his radio transmitters were disabled.

He chose to return to base to report the downed pilot's exact location. Despite his severe burns, he landed his damaged aircraft safely, and insisted on passing on the vital information before receiving medical treatment. The downed pilot was rescued later that day but only after the gun position which Jones identified had been destroyed.

Jones was nominated to receive the Medal of Honor. Despite this well-deserved recognition, Bill really didn’t believe himself to be any type of special hero. His personal conversations after he heard through the 'grapevine' that his Congressional Medal of Honor nomination had been approved, indicated that he had merely done what he had been trained to do and what had to be done. He considered the high award to be a tribute not so much to himself, but to all rescue pilots who had flown out of his squadron. However, his calm, articulate modesty belied his unswerving devotion to duty and personal integrity. His stubborn determination served him well in attaining high marks in his life’s work.

Following prolonged treatment at Fort Sam Houston to recuperate from his severe burns, Bill requested to return to Southeast Asia to finish his combat tour, but he was returned to flying status and assigned command of the 1st Flying Training Squadron at Andrews AFB, MD. He was promoted to Colonel on 1 November 1969.

On 15 November 1969 Jones was killed in the crash of an aircraft he was piloting. Despite an extensive investigation, the cause of the aircraft crash following his normal takeoff was never determined. The fact that the aircraft was maintaining climb power, and that the flight controls system was operational at impact, gives credence to the theory that Bill suffered some physical incapacity or lost consciousness during climb out.

Medals, Awards and Badges

Medal of Honor
Distinguished Flying Cross
Purple Heart
Air Medal with 3 Bronze Oak Leaf Clusters
Air Force Commendation Medal
National Defense Service Medal
Vietnam Service Medal
Vietnam Campaign Medal
Command Pilot Badge

Medal of Honor

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.

Colonel Jones' Medal of Honor was presented to his widow, Lois, by President Richard Nixon on 6 August 1970, during a ceremony at the White House.

Death and Burial

Colonel William Atkinson Jones III died on 15 November 1969 in an aircraft accident in the United States. He is buried at Saint Johns Episcopal Church Cemetery in Warsaw, VA.

Honoree ID: 988   Created by: MHOH




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