World War II Ace Pilot, Career Air Force Officer Dies At 102


Col. Joseph H. “Joe” Joiner, a World War II ace and 30-year, 10,000-flight-hour Air Force officer, died Jan. 10 at the age of 102. Growing up near the Naval Air Station in Corpus Christi, Texas, Joiner always wanted to fly. He signed with the Army flight training program (because they accepted him first) and eventually flew three tours with the 336th Fighter Squadron in P-51 Mustangs as part of the famed 4th Fighter Group in Europe.

He became a Flight Commander with just 170 hours of combat experience and only nine months after graduating from flight school, leading his squadron on 20 missions and the entire group of three squadrons on two missions over Europe. He ultimately destroyed 4.5 German planes on the ground (one shared with another pilot) and 3.5 in air-to-air combat, the last two being Focke Wulf Fw-190s on his 84th and final mission Feb. 20, 1945.

Deciding to make his career in the post-war U.S. Air Force, Joiner later flew Mustangs with the USAF Red Devils, the first Air Force demonstration team, based in Las Vegas; then F-101, F-102, and F-106 “Century Series” jet fighters during the Cold War. At age 50, he flew forward air control (FAC) missions in Vietnam in OV-10 Bronco twin turboprops and later Cessna A-37 jets.

Fellow ace and 4th FG combat pilot, the late Frank Speer, described Joiner in his book 81 Aces of the 4th Fighter Group—“He earned two Distinguished Flying Crosses, nine Air Medals, and a Unit Citation. After all these experiences, he feels he did nothing special. The readers will decide otherwise.”

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Mark Phelps is a senior editor at AVweb. He is an instrument rated private pilot and former owner of a Grumman American AA1B and a V-tail Bonanza.


  1. “170 hours of combat experience and only nine months after graduating from flight school, leading his squadron on 20 missions and the entire group of three squadrons on two missions over Europe.”

    Wait-What? No 1500 hour requirement?

  2. Being at the tip of the spear and surviving for nine months gives one insight as to what’s required. The aging and maturing process is expedited in combat.

    • I was fortunate enough to have the chance to ask Don Blakeslee what it was like to be a full bird colonel at age 27. He just shrugged and said, “If you didn’t get killed you got promoted.”

  3. ” There is no such thing as a natural born pilot ”
    General Chuck Yeager

    Blue skies, Colonel, you earned our respect 10 fold.

  4. I can’t get enough about WWII, especially about the life of the pilots. What an epoque! I am grateful for what these guys did for us. Thank you so much!
    RIP Colonel, back to where you belong. God bless!

  5. Amazing accomplishments, but when I read about his flying forward air control in Broncos and Tweets on top of that career I wished I knew the guy.

  6. What a guy and what a career but, unless things have changed, it requires 5 confirmed air to air victories to be considered an ace. Destroying enemy planes on the ground does not count.

    My comment is in no way meant to reduce Col. Joiner’s accomplishments, only the author’s improper use of the term, “ace”.

    • During the war, the USAAF counted aircraft destroyed by strafing as victories. The theory was that it was more dangerous and “needed to be done” to defeat the Luftwaffe, so credit was given. It was all unofficial, anyway. Virtually all the major U.S. aces in Europe who were lost were brought down by ground fire.

  7. What a distinguished career. Courage and skill. Looking at the bio probably for the best that the F-104 was not listed as aircraft he flew regularly.

  8. Does anybody have an idea of how many pilots that saw service in WW II are left?

    Can’t be many–he was 102–and BEST CASE, someone deployed in 1945 at age 18–would be 97 if he as deployed in 1945 and at age 18–likely OLDER.

    It truly WAS the “Greatest Generation”–raised during the depths of the Depression, they looked to the military as a way out–even with the privations and danger in the military, it was often better than what they were used to at home.

  9. Honor This Man God bless This Man Rest In Peace Sir
    only 170Hours Lady’s And Gentleman And Became One the Best Pilot In This Country One More Reason To Prove The 1500 Hour Rule Is Not Sense

  10. Two commentators somehow equated the 1500 hr rule with combat pilots of WW2 making rank quickly. Perhaps Mark could start a review of that rule in another column so we don’t take away from the solemn direction of honoring those aviators that have passed and the few still alive.

  11. In the skies of Europe and beyond, a legend did rise,
    Col. Joseph H. “Joe” Joiner, under vast azure skies.
    From WWII’s battles to the Vietnam War’s strife,
    He flew with valor, defining the essence of life.

    Low-time pilot, yet high in his skill,
    Through dogfights and perils, his mettle to instill.
    From the propellers of Europe to the jungles afar,
    In the cockpit, he shone like the evening star.

    WWII’s tempests, where bravery was bred,
    Vietnam’s challenges, where courage was spread.
    In the dance with danger, he faced the unknown,
    A hero in flight, his legacy brightly shown.

    Through clouds and through fire, he carved his own tale,
    In the annals of history, where courage set sail.
    Rising through skies, from WWII to Vietnam’s call,
    Col. Joseph H. “Joe” Joiner, a name that stood tall.

    In the echoes of flight, where memories persist,
    We honor your journey, your valor, your twist.
    Rest in peace, Col. Joe, among the celestial sea,
    A pilot of honor, soaring eternally.