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James Jabara - FU Hero

Posted by Jolly on September 24, 2012

 James Jabara. FU takes great pleasure in adding Jabby to our list of fighter pilot heroes. He was born October 10, 1923 in Oklahoma and then lived and attended high school in Wichita, Kansas. He has an airport named after him on the north side of Wichita and, of note; he was the second highest ace of the Korean War behind Joseph McConnell who had 16 to his 15. McConnell got a base named after him in Kansas and is obviously a hero in his own right. Jabby had 1.5 kills in WW II bringing his career total to 16.5 and he holds the title of first “jet” ace.

Jabara was of Lebanese American descent and standing at 5 ft 5 inches tall and needing corrective lenses he was hardly your typical candidate for the fighter world. This did not stop him from enlisting in the air corps and getting his wings much to the credit of his “can do” attitude and love of aerial combat. Col Jabara did two tours in the P-51 and was known there as “The Ceegar Kid” for his penchant for smoking stogies regularly while raising hell at the club. In 1951 he was sent from the war for a temporary assignment at Air Force headquarters and then on to Air Training Command as an instructor. At his request, he was sent back for another tour in Korea where he killed his last 9 MiG-15’s.

Col Jabara returned to the United States in July 1953 and was assigned to Headquarters of the 32nd Air Division, Syracuse, New York. He then took command of the 337th Fighter Interceptor Squadron, Westover Air Force Base Massachusetts. By 1966, Jabara had risen to the rank of Colonel (the youngest at that rank at the time) and was to command the 31st Tactical Fighter Wing at Homestead AFB, Florida.
Jabara was widely rumored to be on the brink of promotion to General when he and his teenage daughter Carol Anne died in a car accident in Florida on November 17, 1966, just as he was preparing to deploy the 31st Wing for his first tour in the Vietnam War. The Jabaras were in two cars on their way to a new home in South Carolina where his wife Nina and their children, James Jr., Carol Anne, Jeanne and Cathy would wait out Jabara's planned combat tour of Viet Nam. Carol Anne was driving a Volkswagen with her father as a passenger in Delray Beach, Florida. She lost control of the car going through a construction zone and it rolled several times. James Jabara was pronounced dead on arrival at the Delray hospital and Carol Anne died two days later. The two were buried together in a single grave at Arlington National Cemetery.  His grandson Lt Nicolas Jabara was killed in a T-37 accident on Jan 31, 2002
Col Jabara lived the life of the “real fighter pilot” in a time where what you did in the air was what counted and your degrees and time behind a desk meant very little to your career. We at FU believe those days should come back and the political BS that gets most people promoted should find its way back to the REMFs where it should be. Jabby’s life was cut short but his accomplishments and example will live on forever. We salute him.


Mark forwarded this story about our FU Hero Jim Jabara.  If you have a story about one of our FU Hero's, or you want to recommend someone be added to our hall of hero's please forward it along.

                                      Jim Jabara: He Didn’t Have to Do It.

                                                      by Mark Berent


            In the late spring of 1959 I found myself at Tyndall AFB, Florida. At that time then-LtCol Jim Jabara had his F-104 squadron, the 337th FIS from Westover, down there for gunnery training. During the day I”d see those sleek birds roaring off to have at it over the Gulf of Mexico. They would blast out of sight a thousand times faster than the F-102s and 106s permanently based at Tyndall. Then, later, they would come down initial in perfect echelon to enter the pattern. Something in the engine and tailpipe assembly would cause a moaning sound as they’d throttle back in the pitch and everyone on the base knew the 104 boys were back.

In the evening I’d see those fighter pilots and their commander, Jim Jabara, at the bar. They were a tight group who seemed to be having a lot of fun. Of course, I mused, what jock wouldn’t be having a lot of fun if he were flying the fastest and sleekest airplane in the world. Remember, this was the time when the Hun and the Thud were the dominant fighters in TAC.

           Besides, they had some kind of a zany drinking song called Ivan Skavar. They started out singing kind of Russian-sounding words as they passed and crashed their beer mugs to the table, then after several incomprehensible verses they hummed the same melody as they passed and crashed, then it became dead quiet as they P and C-ed. Suddenly, in the silence, if there was a blockage or jam up, they would all point and laugh at the hapless perpetrator and he would have to drain whatever was in front of him. But, I digress.

God, I was envious. Here I was, a 26-year-old first lieutenant, in the prime of life, around the world’s greatest, most renowned airplane, and I wasn’t flying it. Zut alors, what’s to be done? Now I had seen beautiful women with men I thought beneath them and, though envious, I did nothing because they were with someone. But this was a different matter entirely. I wasn’t out to steal someone’s wife or date, I just wanted a ride in Kelly Johnson’s finest. But how to bring this about? Being the devious soul that I was, I formed a plan of action: Infiltrate, Ingratiate, Inform, Bribe,  Fly.

            I started by trying to befriend any member of this elite group of fighter pilots. A drink here, a nod there, and soon I made the acquaintances of Ted Banick and Larry Dube. Before long I was invited to join the group from time to time for drinks and song singing. Obviously they pitied anyone who didn’t fly their missile with a man in it. The infiltration part accomplished, I moved on to the ingratiate mode. Though I was clearing all of $600 per month and married, I bought round after round as the days, I should say evenings,  went by. I even learned Ivan Skavar. (Later, passing the song on, resulted in many an interesting session, particularly the time I met Jeremiah Weed.) So, surprisingly, I seemed to be accepted as a poor waif who knew not the joys of flying the world’s greatest fighter flown by, of course, the world’s greatest fighter pilots. Time to move on to the Inform phase.

            So, I made  my wishes known, I wanted to fly their wonderful bird. They looked at each other and smiled knowingly. “Look,” one said in a condescending tone, “there are colonels in the Pentagon who have tried to get a hop in the bird and it hasn’t happened yet nor is it likely. We have only so many hours we can fly and there just isn’t anything left over for courtesy flights. We don’t even fly PIO guys.” I thought about that. Okay, time to try a bribe.

“Gee, guys,” I said, “ I’ll donate $500 to the pilot’s fund to fly the A-model.” The A was a single-seater, the B-model a two-seater. “Furthermore, I’ll memorize the entire Emergency Procedures section in the Dash-One and take a blindfold cockpit check.” There were a few polite snickers, well, maybe not too polite. I went to my fallback position, “Okay, $250 to the pilot’s fund for a ride in the front seat of the B-Model.” More snickers but they could see I was quite serious. I followed up with, “$100 for a ride in the back seat.” There were no comments, just head shakings. I didn’t realize how crass I sounded.

            Colonel Jabara wasn’t always at these sessions, or, he would get them started and then depart. So he wasn’t there the night I made that pitch. The next night he was and Ted introduced me to this legendary first American jet ace. “They told me about you,” he said and rolled his ever-present cigar in his mouth. “Be down at the squadron 0700 hours tomorrow ready to fly.” I could barely refrain from shouting a cry of elation. “In the back seat, of course,” he added, “and forget about any pilot’s fund donations.”

All kitted up, I was in the squadron trailer by 0630, shared a cup of coffee with and was briefed by my front seat pilot, who was either one of the three squadron IPs; Ray Nyls, Herb Barnes, or Chuck Lloyd. I just don’t recall which one because I was so excited to be allowed in Lockheed’s faster-than-a-speeding-bullet airplane. 

            “Just a quickie,” he said, “out over the Gulf. You try out the controls, watch out for those damn thunder bumpers. They are really screwing up our missions.” The 337th was at Tyndall to get the pilots checked out firing the AIM 9. Poor acquisition radar and low heat from the targets caused most of the missiles to home in on the TSTMs. Out to the airplane; the crew chief helped me lock into the backseat. I had never seen, much less worn, garters and spurs as he showed me how to hook them up. They were, he explained, a device to pull your feet back to the seat during an ejection so your legs don’t flail, particularly during a high speed ejection. He told me the F-104 could attain speeds well over Mach 2 but then there was the danger of the canopy and inlet guide vanes melting. This airplane can go so fast it can melt? Jeez Louise!

The IP fired up, got the all-clear from the crew chief, we pulled our canopies down, locked them, and started to taxi. He even let me taxi. Rear seat visibility was pretty good due to the slightly elevated seat. Much better than the Hun or, as I was to find out years later, the F-4. As we were enroute to the runway,  Tower called and said all flying was cancelled due to bad weather. And, yes, it was really crappy outside the window but I hadn’t paid all that much attention. Damn, damn, damn. So, taxi back, shut down, unstrap, walk through the beginning rain to the crew bus, equipment jangling, and into squadron ops. “Sorry about that,” the IP said, “we tried.” Fighter pilots don’t cry but if they did, I’d be wailing.

            A lot of disgruntled pilots stood about, coffee in hand, bitching about the weather. Inside I wasn’t necessarily bitching, I was crestfallen. My crest, in fact, was flat on the floor. Here was my big, my only chance to get a ride in the Star Fighter, but Ares, the Greek god of storms, ruled otherwise.

            But, I said to myself, Colonel Jim Jabara had set up a flight for me when he certainly didn’t have to. And way ahead of those Pentagon colonels, at that. And what with the USAF’s lack of money for extra flying hours (would you believe pilots were restricted to 100 hours per year .. That’s 8+20 per month). I was at least lucky to have strapped in and taxied a 104.

But to Jim Jabara, a commitment was a commitment. He rolled the ever-present cigar in his mouth and said, “Hang around. When the weather clears, we’ll get you airborne.”

            The weather cleared, and I got airborne. I can’t begin to describe what it felt like to be in that knife-edged fighter. I had plenty of time in ‘86s and Huns, but this was science fiction, space rocket, aeronautical orgasm stuff.

            That night, at the O’Club with the 337th Squadron, I was honored by Jim Jabara with a firm handshake and an F-104 lapel pin. It didn’t get any better than that in the 1959 fighter community. Gentlemen, how many times have you seen a commander, particularly a legendary Ace , and double particularly when flying hours were tight, give a ride in his precious airplane to a first lieutenant nobody who could do absolutely nothing, provide no quid pro quo, not even put in a good word to some high-ranking relative or write an article as a PIO guy would do? You just don’t.

            His tragic death in 1966 as a full colonel enroute to take command of a Fighter Wing in Florida was a shock to all of us. This fierce warrior of two air wars, a man  with 1 and ½ kills WWII, 15 MiGs Korea,  was also a compassionate commander who could take pity on a young fighter jock and give him his heart’s desire.

            There is little doubt that Jim Jabara did the same for others, in many forms, throughout his life. There is also little doubt that, had he lived, he would have become the Chief of Staff of the United States Air Force.

            And, you know, I never once wondered why he did it... he was just that sort of man.



Posted by ROBINARMOUR on
Jim Jabara also shot down one of my close friends, and later a B-47E Aircraft Commander in the 509th Bomb Wing, named Frailey. Jim Jabara's camera footage clearly showed Frailey's F-86 being shot down.

High marks for good shooting, Jabara.

Robin Armour, Major, USAFR retired.
Posted by DuckPerry on
What a great story Mark. So many 'good ole days' points to be made there. What I found particularly great...was Jabara's authority to just say "you're flying tomorrow morning there at 0700". Try THAT these days!! Hell....better have a letter from the wing commander, along with one from the base (fill in the blank) ACC permission, to include your local congressman and a presidential citation authorizing the flight. Pitiful.

Posted by butch71 on
A real good article I just read.
Posted by fendrick on
Quite a guy.
Here's to the good old days.
Posted by cwirvine on
That is a very fortunate jet pilot. Not many USAF pilots got to do that; get a ride in an F 104! I was fortunate enough to be the Commander of the German Fighter Weapons School at Luke AFB and flew the F 104. I agree with that pilot; it was always exciting to fly that airplane. And I flew the F84 (B,G & F), F 100 (C,D, F) and F 5 (A and C).

It was the best of the Kelly Johnson's "Skunk Works". The RS 71 was magic but the F 104 was a fighter. Martini
Posted by WaltHarrison on
Mark,as usual I thoroughly enjoyed your account of your ride in the F-104. I might add a short bit to Col. Jabara's history. In 1964 the USAF F-104G German Training Program was initiated at Luke AFB with two squadrons and approximately 120 aircraft. Col. Jabara was the first 104 Group Commander.As you noted,he had flown the F-104A but not "G" which had the first inertial nav system in a fighter.It took a bit getting used to.At the time I was teaching inertial nav in academics and flying as an instructor,so when Col. Jabara wanted to take single seater to Langley for a meeting he came to me for quick lesson on the inertial system. I programmed his proposed route in two LN_3 cartridges,one for each sortie since he was unable to fly non stop.He was not sure why all this was neccessary but would do as I had instructed. To make things more confusing when in the tacan mode the directional needle could not be placed on the nose of the aircraft but must align with a curser offset at an angle.It was covusing and I was not convinced the Col fully understood, I offered to fly backseat and handle the nav duities,but he insisted in taking a singie seater. As a result he landed at Seymore Johnson That night and flew into Langly the next day. After returning to luke he called me in to his office for several more hours instruction and soon mastered the idiosyncrosices of the new G model We all liked Jim Jabara and he flew a good airplane!Walt Harrison
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