Tag Archives: Saigon

“It Ain’t A Hurricane Unless Colonel Joe Says It’s A Hurricane”

Colonel Joseph "Joe" Nelson

Grace’s grandpa died this morning.

Marine Colonel Joseph “Joe” Nelson (Ret.) passed away while in a coma he’d fallen into while sleeping during the night.

He knew Christ Jesus as his Savior and Lord.

And he was a hero of the armed forces of the United States of America.

Colonel Joe was a veteran of 3 wars, WWII, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War. He observed the atom bomb exploding over Nagasaki from the cockpit of this fighter plane. He was a member of the Marine Observation Squadron 6 (VMO-6) and commanded them in Vietnam for much of 1967. During his tenure as commander of VMO-6 there were no fatalities despite hard fighting.

During his command of VMO-6 one of his men, Major Stephen M. Pless, earned the Medal of Honor for action protecting soldiers under heavy attack on a beach in Mai Lai and several others were recognized with lesser commendations.

Colonel Joe spent the last years of his life in deteriorating health due to exposure to chemical agents during the Vietnam War.

My son William is his great grandson. Due to the generosity of family, Grace and William were able to fly to North Carolina to spend some brief time with Colonel Joe the day before he died.

I did not know Colonel Joe personally. Grace and I were planning a trip to visit her granddad and grandmother once I’d found longer-term employment. I know he was a human, and prone to all the failures of humankind. However, he was and remained to the end and strong and decent man. Well respected in the community around his home near the Marine Base.

Grace and her siblings were recognized as “Colonel Joe’s grandkids” by all they met when visiting their grandparents, speaking to the honor and respect the Colonel received.

ValorRemembered.org chronicles much of the action surrounding VMO-6 and the Pless Medal of Honor episode. It describes Colonel Joe this way:

Colonel Nelson is a veteran of three major wars, and untold other actions.  During World War II he flew fighters in the Pacific and witnessed the dropping of the atomic bomb on Nagasaki from the cockpit of his fighter.  He fought again in the Korean War.  In Vietnam he was first put in charge of the construction of the air base at Chu Lai.  He commanded VMO-6 for most of 1967, a period of time when the squadron was heavily engaged in combat throughout the I Corps area.  Despite numerous hard fought battles with the enemy, not a single member of his squadron was killed while Joe Nelson was in charge.  After leaving VMO-6 Colonel Nelson was assigned the task of preparing a contingency plan for the final evacuation of American personnel from Saigon.   Years later  Colonel Nelson’s plan was followed in the actual evacuation under fire of the thousands of American and Vietnamese from Saigon.

So Colonel Joe has gone to meet his Maker, the Lord of the heavens and the earth, from whose mouth he hears those words of honor and praise “Well done, my good and faithful servant. Enter into the rest I have prepared for you.”

Colonel Joe standing on the wing of a Corsair fighter he flew in his early days as a Marine aviator.

UPDATE: Colonel Joe’s obituary in the New Bern Sun Journal:

(Colonel Joe) is survived by his wife of 65 years, Virginia Nelson; two sons, Dan Nelson and wife, Judith, of Dallas, Texas, and Dr. David Nelson and wife, Sheila, of Birmingham, Ala.; and one daughter, Susan Sauer and husband, Dr. Ronald Sauer, of Wheaton, Ill.; 10 grandchildren; and one great-grandson.