Bruce Jones, 90, of Hamilton, is a retired colonel in the United States Air Force.
Jones trained to become a pilot during World War II, but didn't get his wings or see action as a fighter pilot until Korea.
In Vietnam, Jones flew a little Cessna as a forward air observer working with the Green Berets, becoming an honorary member of the elite corps.
Jones enlisted in the Air Force in 1943, right out of high school, and served until 1945 during WWII. He intended to be a pilot, but the war ended before his training was complete.
“The war ended in Europe, and they didn’t need any more pilots,” Jones said.
Unable to complete his training in the military, Jones used the GI Bill to complete his pilot’s license and purchase his own airplane. He re-enlisted to fight communism in 1949. He completed the year of pilot's training, flying F-80As, America’s first jet, in advanced flying school.
His first job was flying F-86As, F-94Cs and P-51s in Detroit. He went to Korea in 1951 in the 51st Fighter Wing. He completed half the tour flying the F-80a and the other half fighting MiGs in F-86s.
“I came home and was assigned to an Air Force base and I flew right wing on the Air Defense Command’s acrobatic team – forerunner to the Thunderbirds,” Jones said. “I flew F-86s for three years. Then the F-86s went to the test program at Edwards Air Force Base, flying the F-104 model aircraft. I delivered the first ones to the Air Force in ‘58.”
In 1960, he was reassigned to the German Air Force because they had purchased the F-104 from Lockheed.
“I spent four years with them and was awarded the German Flying Wings,” Jones said.
He returned to Luke Air Force Base and continued training German pilots until 1967, when he was assigned to Vietnam – to the Green Beret special forces, as a lieutenant colonel.
“I spent the whole year in Vietnam supporting the top-secret missions,” Jones said. “I was flying a Cessna. The military had developed the air war so that the jets were so fast they’d send in this 150-mph aircraft to spot the target. We would fire smoke rockets at the targets, and then the fighters would hit the smoke with rockets and napalm – in-country only. All our work with special forces was top secret, so no one knew anything.”
Another advantage of the smaller, slower planes was the ability to land on dirt landing strips.
“One time, I had to go around an elephant on the runway,” Jones said. “I’d fly along the rivers and see the lions laying there – it was pretty wild country. It was all jungle.”
Jones said the hardest thing in Vietnam was staying alive.
“One night, we had 260 men trapped and I had the commander in my back seat talking to his best friend on the ground,” Jones said. “His friend was whispering. The commander told his friend he’d return in the morning to get them, but they had to take their dead and wounded across the river two miles while all these bombs were dropping. We went the next morning and rescued every single one of them, plus their dead and wounded. They gave me the Distinguished Flying Cross for that.
“That was the worst war I’d ever seen.”
Jones said the best time was when he was fighting the MiGs, because they were being flown by Russians.
“There was a strategy – at that time, we had .50 calibers - we went to rockets and missiles later on,” Jones said. “The 104 went Mach 2. For 10 years, I flew Mach 2. I got awarded the General Electric Trophy in 1958 for setting a record. It was setting all the speed and altitude records – it went to 93,000 feet and over 1,500 miles an hour. I could go from here to Spokane in 14 minutes – that’s called hauling butt.
“Korea was the last war we won – and that’s because the military ran the war. After Korea, the politicians started running the wars. In Vietnam, we had the war won and the politicians made us stop. The next day, we would have done the last five miles. It’s a shame what has happened with our country.”
In 1968, he returned to the U.S. and was given a desk job. He flew the T-39 Saber Liner and managed the World Wide F-104 program. In 1973, he was reassigned to Italy as the deputy commander for logistics, then retired at age 49 in 1976, with 30 years of military service.
“I haven’t done a lick of work since,” Jones said.