John “Jack” Pitchford

Published 12:00 am Saturday, December 5, 2009

NATCHEZ — Services for Col. John Joseph “Jack” Pitchford, 82, of Natchez, who died Wednesday, Dec. 2, 2009, at his residence, will be at 11 a.m. Monday at St. Mary Basilica with the Rev. David O’Connor and the Rev. Louis Sklar officiating.

Burial will follow at the Natchez City Cemetery under the direction of Laird Funeral Home.

Visitation will be from 4 to 6:30 p.m. Sunday at Laird Funeral Home Union Street Chapel.

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Col. Pitchford was born May 29, 1927, in Natchez, the son of John Joseph Pitchford and Inez Theresa Hunter Pitchford. He was a 1944 graduate of St. Joseph’s Catholic High School. Majoring in forestry, he graduated from Louisiana State University at Baton Rouge with a bachelor of science degree in May 1952 and received his Air Force commission through the school’s Reserve Officer Training Corps Program in August of the same year.

Col. Pitchford entered the U.S. Army Reserve in August 1944 and was assigned duties as an armament and engineering mechanic. He was called to active duty in July 1945, near the conclusion of World War II and remained in this status until being discharged in December 1946. In November 1949, he re-entered the Army Reserve as a basic rifleman and remained in the reserves until February 1951.

On entering the Air Force in June 1952, Col. Pitchford was selected for pilot training. He received his primary flight training at Bartow Air Force Base, Florida. In March 1953, the colonel was sent to James Connally Air Force Base, Texas to receive basic pilot training.

After receiving his wings in September 1953, the colonel was sent to Arizona for three months to attend F-84 combat crew training at Williams and Luke Air Force Bases. In January 1954, Col. Pitchford received his first operational assignment as an F-84 fighter pilot and bomb commander with the 8th Fighter Bomber Squadron, Misawa AB, Japan.

The colonel remained in Japan until March 1956, when he returned to Luke Air Force Base as a combat gunnery instructor with the 3600th Combat Crew Training Squadron. He remained in this position until December 1962, when he moved to Kunsan AB, Korea, as an air operations officer with Detachment 2 of the 39th Air Division.

Returning to the U.S. in February, 1964, Col. Pitchford became the plans and logistics officer of the 27th Tactical Fighter Wing at Cannon Air Force Base, New Mexico. In June 1965, the colonel was selected to attend the USAF Fighter Weapons School. Upon graduation he volunteered to participate in the Air Force’s WILD WEASEL Program.

Developed to nullify the threat that North Vietnamese surface-to-air missiles posed to U.S. fighter-bombers, the WILD WEASEL Program employed F-100 fighters in near ground-level, below enemy radar penetrations targeted directly against the heavily defended SAM sites.

After receiving specialized WILD WEASEL training at Eglin Air Force Base, Florida, Col. Pitchford was sent to Korat RTAFB, Thailand, in November 1965, as an F-100 WILD WEASEL pilot/operations analyst. On December 20, Col. Pitchford’s aircraft was hit by ground fire on a WILD WEASEL mission hear Hanoi, North Vietnam. Captured and taken prisoner shortly after bailing out of his crippled plane, he remained a prisoner of war for more than seven years, until repatriated on Feb. 12, 1973.

On returning to U.S. military control, the colonel became a patient at the March Air Force Base, California hospital, where he remained until July 1974. He retired from active duty in 1976.

Col. Pitchford attended the Air War College, Maxwell Air Force Base, Alabama, in August 1974, graduating in June of the following year. The colonel became commander of the Air Force Communications Security Center in July 1975.

Col. Pitchford’s military decorations and awards include the Distinguished Service Medal, Silver Star with one Oak Leaf Cluster (OLC), the Legion of Merit, the Bronze Star with V (Valor) Device with one OLC, the Air Force Commendation Medal with one OLC, the Purple Heart with one OLC, the Air Force Outstanding Unit Award and POW Medal. He was promoted to the temporary grade of colonel on April 15, 1974.

He was a member of St. Mary Basilica; a lifetime member of Knights of Columbus; and a member of Krewe of Killarney, serving as “St. Patrick” in 2005. In 1973, he was honored by Louisiana State University being named “Alumni of the Year.” Col. Pitchford was also a member of the Red River Valley Fighter Pilots Association and the Society of the Wild Weasels.

He was preceded in death by his parents; three brothers, Col. Charles Pitchford, U.S. Marine Corps, Frank Pitchford and Frederick Pitchford; one sister, Margaret “Peggy” Pitchford; and two brothers-in-law, Thomas Kirk Bartley and Gene C. Loomis.

Survivors include four brothers, Thomas “Tom” Pitchford and wife, Joan, and James “Jim” Pitchford and wife, Leigh, all of Baton Rouge, Richard Pitchford of Natchez and Gerald Pitchford and wife, Yara, of Santa Fe, N.M.; three sisters, Mary C. Loomis of Lafayette, La., Inez Marlow and husband, Orvis, and Judy Bartley, all of Natchez; two sisters-in-law, Patti Pitchford of Norfolk, Va., and Sherry Pitchford of Memphis, Tenn.; and a number of nieces and nephews.

Pallbearers will be Lt. Col. Walton Shannon Pitchford, U.S. Marine Corps Retired Lt. Col. John Kennedy Pitchford, U.S. Marine Corps Major Richard Hunter Pitchford, U.S. Marine Corps Cpl. Erik Andrew Loomis, John Charles Loomis and Ralph “Butch” Pitchford, Robert Loomis and Richard Gerow Pitchford.

Honorary pallbearers will be Cpl. John David Pitchford, Sgt. Gerald Barton Pitchford, Recruit Dane Patrick Loomis, Lance Cpl. Jordan Byrd and all former Vietnam POWs.

In lieu of flowers, the family requests memorials be made to The Family Life Center of St. Mary Basilica, P.O. Box 1044, Natchez, MS 39121, Natchez Children’s Home, Krewe of Killarney or Cathedral School.