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15715 Pitts, John Emmett
November 07, 1924 - August 09, 1977



Published Assembly Sep '94

John Emmett Pitts, Jr. No.15715 Class of 1946 Died 9 August 1977 in Greenville, South Carolina, aged 52 years. Interment: Pine Hill Cemetery, Auburn, Alabama.

John Emmett Pitts, Jr., known to his family and friends as Johnny, was born 7 November 1924 in Auburn, Alabama to John and Martha Pitts. Johnny's father was head football coach at Auburn University from 1924 to 1928 and then professor of mathematics from 1930 to 1940. As a reserve officer, he served in World War II, gaining the rank of colonel. Johnny was active in sports and other activities at Auburn High School, from where he graduated in 1942. He then enrolled at The Citadel and was called to active duty as an enlisted man. He received his appointment to West Point while on active duty and entered the Academy with the Class of 1946.

Life as a cadet created few problems for Johnny. As C-2 Company friend, classmate and fellow airman, Marty Colladay, recalled: "Johnny was one of the most likable and easy to know people I ever met. He was fun to be with. Still, he knew his mission and was dedicated to carrying it out" Johnny breezed through academics and his winning personality kept him out of trouble with upperclassmen and tactical officers. He opted for flight training and graduated a second lieutenant with pilot wings in the Army Air Corps.

Johnny's first assignment was to Arizona for transition to fighter aircraft. He made the transition with flying colors and was sent to Guam for duty as a fighter pilot. His next assignment was to Howard Air Force Base, Canal Zone, again as a jet fighter pilot. After a short tour in South Carolina, where be met and married Barbara Barnes in Greenville in March1952, Johnny joined the 136th Tactical Fighter Group in Korea. He flew l00 missions in his F-84, logging 200 combat hours and earning the Distinguished Flying Cross and two Air Medals. From Korea he was assigned to the 31st Strategic Fighter Wing at Turner Air Force Base, Georgia. He served as a flight commander during the first mass flight, Fox Peter One, of tactical fighter jets across the Pacific. From Georgia the Pitts moved to California, where Johnny served as an Air Force exchange officer with the Marines. He became carrier qualified in both propeller and jet Marine fighters. He returned to Turner AFB in l954 to command the 308th Strategic Fighter Squadron. In 1957, he was assigned as chief, Fighter Missile Test Branch, Holloman Air Force Base, New Mexico. This was followed by the Armed Forces Staff College; then by command of the 494th Tactical Fighter Squadron at Royal Air Force Base Lakenheath, England.

In 1964, Johnny was assigned to Headquarters, US Air Force in the Tactical Division, plans and Operations. He attended the Army War College, graduating in 1966. Alter refresher training in F-l00 aircraft at Luke Air Force Base, Arizona, Johnny traveled to South Vietnam as Air Force Director, III Corps Direct Air Support Center at Bien Hoa. He logged over 200 combat flying hours during that tour. A friend and Air Force classmate, John Molchan, recalled: "After graduation, amazingly enough, the next time I saw John Pitts was in Vietnam in 1968. Johnny commanded the III Corps DASC and I was the Field Force air liaison officer at Long Binh. Johnny regularly held songfests on Saturday evenings at III Base Compound for the ALOs and FACs (Forward Air Controller) in III Corps. When the Tet Offensive kicked off in February 1968, the II Field Force Headquarters at Long Binh was in deep trouble. A Viet Cong sniper unit had touched off the big ammo dump one klick east of Long Binh; the compound was being over-run: and remnants of the sniper unit were holed up in a bamboo patch outside the compound, preventing the aviation group from manning their Huey gunships. The II Field Force commander directed me to get some air assets and eliminate the sniper unit. Somehow I got hold of Johnny Pitts and he provided us with a C-47 Spooky, with flares, a FAC and a flight of F-4s with wall-to-wall napalm. The mission was accomplished, thanks to Johnny Pitts. I'll never forget you, Johnny."

From Vietnam, Johnny returned to the states as Deputy Commandant at the Air Force Academy. In 1971,he moved to Lackland Air Force Base, Texas, becoming Vice Commander, Lackland Military Training Center in 1972. After promotion to brigadier general in 1973, Johnny was appointed director of the International Staff, Inter-American Defense Board, Washington, DC. He retired from active duty in 1976.

John Emmett Pitts, Jr. died in Greenville, South Carolina on 9 August 1977. He was survived by his wife, Barbara; three daughters, Patricia, Dabney and Lisa; and one son, John E. Pitts, III.

Johnny Pitts loved the Air Force, flying fighter aircraft and working with troops. With a keen sense of humor, a twinkle in his eyes and a big friendly smile, be made friends easily. But underneath that easygoing personality was a dedicated, mission-oriented officer who always kept his eye on what needed to be done. A classmate and fellow pilot, Richard (Twill) Newell, recalled: "He never overlooked the enlisted men with whom he worked. He had compassion and under- standing for those with lesser rank and education. After work was done, he enjoyed get togethers with fellow officers to talk about flying and other experiences. As the years passed and his family grew, he found that happy balance between duty and family. He was ever loyal and dedicated to the Air Force. Those traits were instilled at West Point and he lived a life of Duty, Honor, Country."

Johnny Pitts is missed by his family, friends and classmates. The Class of 1946 joins his family in saying, "Rest in Peace, Johnny!"

Barbara Barnes Pitts, Johnny's beloved wife, died in January 1983.

'46 Memorial Article Project and his children

Personal Eulogy


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