Jesse Campbell was born on November 17, 1930. He was commissioned through the Air Force ROTC program on January 9, 1953, and went on active duty beginning January 27, 1953. Lt Campbell completed Navigator Training in May 1954, and Undergraduate Pilot Training in July 1957. He then served as a C-118 Liftmaster pilot until March 1959, when he transitioned to the SC-54D Skymaster for search and rescue. Capt Campbell served with the 53rd Air Rescue Squadron at Keflavik, Iceland, from April 1959 to February 1960, and then attended a Nuclear Weapons Course at Lowry AFB, Colorado. His next assignment was as an instructor with the Department of Missile and Space Training at Sheppard AFB, Texas, from November 1960 to July 1964, followed by service at Patrick AFB, Florida, from July 1964 to August 1966. Maj Campbell next went through Air Command and Staff College at Maxwell AFB, Alabama, before serving as a C-123 Provider pilot with the 311th Air Commando Squadron at Phan Rang AB in the Republic of Vietnam from November 1967 to August 1968. He then served with the 315th Air Division at Don Muang Royal Thai AFB, Thailand, from August to December 1968, before being assigned as an instructor pilot with the 1001st Flying Training Squadron at Andrews AFB, Maryland, from December 1968 to July 1969. Col Campbell's next assignment was with the 7310th and then the 322nd Tactical Airlift Wing at Rhein-Main AB, West Germany, from July 1969 to July 1973. He served as a staff officer with Headquarters Air Training Command at Randolph AFB, Texas, from July 1973 to March 1976, and then with the 47th Air Base Group at Laughlin AFB, Texas, until July 1978. Col Campbell served as Commander of the 80th Flying Training Wing at Sheppard AFB, Texas, from July 1978 until his retirement from the Air Force on May 31, 1981.
His Air Force Cross Citation reads:
The President of the United States of America, authorized by Title 10, Section 8742, United States Code, awards the Air Force Cross to Major Jesse W. Campbell for extraordinary heroism in military operations against an opposing armed force as a C-123 aircraft pilot in the Republic of Vietnam on 12 May 1968. On that date, Major Campbell volunteered to attempt the rescue of a three-man USAF Combat Control Team from the Special Forces Camp at Kham Duc. Hostile forces had overrun the forward outpost and established gun positions on the airstrip. They were raking the camp with small arms, mortars, light and heavy automatic weapons, and recoilless rifle fire. The camp was engulfed in flames and ammunition dumps were continuously exploding and littering the runway with debris. In addition, eight aircraft had been destroyed by the intense enemy fire and one aircraft remained on the runway reducing its useable length to only 2200 feet. To further complicate a landing, the weather was deteriorating rapidly. Although fully aware of the extreme danger and likely failure of such an attempt, Major Campbell set up the approach from approximately 7300 feet above the airfield. Through a superior display of pilot expertise, he sideslipped the C-123 aircraft steeply to an altitude of 500 feet above the ground. The landing roll was terminated near the point where the Combat Control Team was reported to be hiding. While on the ground, the aircraft was the target of intense hostile fire. A rocket landed in front of the nose of the aircraft but failed to explode. Once the Combat Control Team was aboard, the C-123 succeeded in getting airborne despite the hostile fire directed across the runway in front of the aircraft. Through his extraordinary heroism, superb airmanship, and aggressiveness, Major Campbell reflected the highest credit upon himself and the United States Air Force.