Andrew Leslie Jackson was born April 18, 1922 in Sumter County, Alabama, the youngest child of county sheriff John P. Jackson (1875-1931). Andrew showed leadership abilities early in life by his dedicated participation in the Boy Scout program, earning the rank of Eagle Scout. After graduation from Livingston High School, he became a student in the University of Alabama's college of engineering and enrolled in the Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC). In 1942, he applied for Air Cadet training and was soon accepted in the Army Air Corps. Jackson earned his pilot's wings on August 30, 1943 at Williams Field, Chandler, Arizona.
Second Lieutenant Jackson joined the 33rd Photographic Reconnaissance Squadron at Chalgrove Field, England on May 23, 1944, the day the squadron began flying combat missions over Europe. He made his first flight as a member of the 33rd on May 27, a local training hop. His second flight, two days later, was a local mission to test a camera configuration. On the afternoon of May 31, Lieutenant Jackson took off in F-5C #42-67105 on his third sortie, a high-altitude training flight. He never returned to Chalgrove Field.
During the flight, the aircraft developed control problems and Jackson faced the possibility that if he bailed out, his unpiloted F-5 Photo Lightning might hit homes and businesses. The lieutenant decided that the only way to ensure the safety of the general public was to ride the plane down. He passed over populated areas at low altitude and crashed on open downland more than a mile beyond a village which included a school. The aircraft was destroyed and Jackson killed.
Bob Askew and his brother John were students at Cuddington Croft school in Cheam village. Bob heard "the very loud noise of an aircraft as it skimmed over the school roof missing the chimney by inches. Our teacher informed us that we were all very fortunate not to have been killed. After school we cycled to Banstead Downs (Cuddington Golf Club) and saw the remains of the fighter plane. The police had cordoned off the whole area which was just 100 yards from the road and surrounding houses."
The accident was erroneously reported to have occurred near Portsmouth. Instead, Jackson had crashed about mid-afternoon on the grounds of the Banstead Downs Golf Club just south of Sutton in Surrey. The loss of the 33rd's first overseas casualty cast an immediate pall over the squadron. "The pilots in the Ready Room became quiet and thoughtful," noted Corporal Elwood Davis of Operations. "Jackson had been an extremely friendly man and to know him was to like him."
The cause of the plane's malfunction was never determined. Some speculated that Jackson's F-5 was struck by lightning. Pilots of the 33rd conjectured that the aircraft had fallen out of a thunderhead and become a victim of the "compressibility" problems to which early versions of P-38 type planes were subject.
Despite questions surrounding the cause of the mishap, one indisputable fact emerged. Lieutenant Andrew L. Jackson had had the opportunity to get out alive, but selflessly chose to remain in the cockpit, using what little control he had over the craft to steer clear of population centers. The extent of his heroism was well attested to the Jackson family by many grateful witnesses.
In a letter to Jackson's mother two weeks after the accident, District Warden F. W. Clarke noted: "It may perhaps be some consolation to you to know that he performed a very gallant act in successfully avoiding the houses and roads over which he was flying, and in landing his aircraft on open Downland, and thereby undoubtedly avoiding further loss of life."
William C. Knealing, secretary of Banstead Downs Golf Club wrote to the Jackson family that "from trustworthy evidence it is clear that the Lieutenant made a bravely sustained and indeed successful effort to keep his machine in the air while passing over inhabited areas [and] thus forfeited his life in a very gallant effort to preserve the lives of others."
Helda Julian Jones, a resident of Surrey, also sent a letter to Mrs. Jackson: "At the time of the flying tragedy in which your son was involved I was staying at the Manse, the last house which your beloved son passed over in avoiding the village. I want to tell you of his gallantry and heroism for he could have baled [sic] out but chose rather to lose his own life and save others."
The Ninth Air Force officially acknowledged Lieutenant Jackson's valor by awarding him the Distinguished Flying Cross:
For heroism in aerial flight in the European Theater of Operations. Lieutenant Jackson displayed outstanding heroism while piloting his P-38 type aircraft on a high altitude navigational training flight on 31 May 1944. His plane went out of control over the town of ***, England, and disregarding his own personal safety, Lieutenant Jackson remained gallantly at the controls of his spinning aircraft to guide it clear of the inhabited area of the town, crashing in a nearby field. Lieutenant Jackson's self sacrificing devotion to his fellow men is in keeping with the finest traditions of the military service. (Headquarters, Ninth Air Force, General Orders No. 267)
Lieutenant Jackson was buried in England, but in 1948, his body was brought back to Alabama and interred in the Jackson family plot in Myrtlewood Cemetery, Livingston.
The legacy of Andrew L. Jackson has been perpetuated on both sides of the Atlantic. The Army Reserve building on Highway 11 North in his hometown of Livingston is named for him. It was built on land donated by his mother, Mrs. Nannie E. Jackson (1881-1967).
Meanwhile, in England, a memorial honoring Lieutenant Jackson was erected at the site of the crash. Banstead Downs native Jack Connolly had been a school boy in 1944 at the time of the accident and witnessed its aftermath. Following years of study and effort, and with the full support of the Golf Club and the permission of the Banstead Commons Conservators, Mr. Connolly succeeded in having a stone engraved and placed on the spot where Lieutenant Jackson was killed. It was formally dedicated in 1999.
Additionally, Roger Steele, Secretary/Manager of the Banstead Downs Golf Club, created a memorial display that appears in the Club house. It features Lieutenant Jackson's portrait and pilot's wings, a photograph of a Lockheed Lightning, and an authentic Distinguished Flying Cross like the one awarded posthumously to the Lieutenant and now in the possession of the Jackson family.
Andrew Jackson is also listed in the Book of Honor at the American Chapel in St. Paul's Cathedral, London which contains the names of over 28,000 Americans who died during World War II while stationed in the United Kingdom.
To read about F-5C #42-67105, click here.
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