DAYTON — U.S. Air Force veteran Lieutenant Colonel and Tipp City resident Mike Jackson was recently awarded the Ford Oval of Honor this year, honoring Jackson for both his service in the Vietnam War as well as his initiatives to give other Vietnam War veterans the welcome home they never got.
Jackson, who was a pilot in the Vietnam War, said that this year’s Ford Oval of Honor recipients focused on Vietnam War veterans. Jackson flew in 210 combat missions over southeast Asia as a Forward Air Controller, earning the Distinguished Flying Cross, Purple Heart, nine Air Medals, and numerous other awards and decorations. He also developed a Forward Air Controller training program that was implemented by the South Vietnamese Air Force.
After retiring in 1991, Jackson went on to write three books, including his memoir “Naked in Da Nang,” in 2004.
“That book kind of took off,” Jackson said. He gave numerous talks on his memoir “Naked in Da Nang,” including at the Pentagon and the Smithsonian.
Jackson also became the Executive Director of the National Aviation Hall of Fame for 13 years and later the National Chairman and Founder of Operation Welcome Home.
Jackson’s book inspired the Operation Welcome Home celebrations, the first of which was held in Las Vegas in 2005 and gave Vietnam War veterans a four-day celebration to honor them for their sacrifices. Operation Welcome Home had two other national events in California in 2006 and Indiana in 2008 — which were opened up to other veterans — as well as over 36 regional events.
“We wanted as many people to do them on their own,” Jackson said. He added, “To have a little part in that was really gratifying.”
Jackson recalled one story he heard from a captain’s original return home after the Vietnam War, saying that the captain was greeted by his wife and his newborn child, whom he had not yet seen for the first time, along with protesters of the Vietnam War in San Francisco.
“Protesters spit on all three of them,” Jackson said.
The Operation Welcome Home celebrations became a way to give back to those veterans, and Jackson donated his time to them to make them happen.
“We just wanted to make it right,” Jackson said.
Jackson volunteered as the National Chairman of Operation Welcome Home from 2005 to 2012. He also founded the American Veterans Institute (AVI) in 2004, which was a nonprofit organization created to honor and assist veterans and their families on a variety of levels. In 1997, he was one of the youngest living individuals ever inducted into the Ohio Veterans Hall of Fame for his volunteer work with unemployed veterans.
Jackson has received a number of service and community-oriented awards for his efforts on behalf of veterans. In 2005, he was recognized by his master’s degree alma mater, Webster University, as the school’s Distinguished Alumni for his “service to humanity.” Jackson received the 2007 Medal of Merit from Ohio University, his undergraduate alma mater.
He was also named 2007 Humanitarian of the Year by the Northern Miami Valley Red Cross of Ohio, once again for his efforts on behalf of veterans. In 1998, he was selected by the American Red Cross as the first-ever Miami Valley Hometown Military Hero. Tipp City named him its Outstanding Citizen of the Year in 2005.
The Third Masonic District of Ohio presented him with its Community Service Award in 2006 and, in 2012, the Grand Lodge of Ohio honored him with their highest award, the Rufus Putnam Award.
On Veterans Day 2008, Jackson received the Four Chaplains Memorial Foundation’s prestigious Legion of Honor Award, which has been given to Harry S. Truman, Dwight Eisenhower, Bob Hope, and other veterans’ advocates and leaders over the years.
His most recent honor in receiving the Ford Oval of Honor award left him with a feeling of “why me?”
“It was a really nice experience that I very much appreciate getting,” Jackson said. “The award I got was fantastic.”
Jackson is currently retired and lives in Tipp City. He and his wife Karen have two adult daughters, Lori Jackson Zieg and Katie Jackson Patel.
The other two Ford Oval of Honor recipients this year were U.S Army nurse Carolyn Abernathy Auclair and Air Force Veteran Captain Guy Gruters, who was a POW for five years in Vietnam.
Reach Sam Wildow at firstname.lastname@example.org