Family, friends, unit remember fighter pilot

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Family, friends, unit remember fighter pilot

Col. Bart Van Roo, commander of the Wisconsin Air National Guard’s 115th Fighter Wing, presents Corinne Jones with a folded flag during an April 17 memorial service at the Wisconsin Air National Guard’s Madison-based 115th Fighter Wing. Maj. Durwood “Hawk” Jones, an F-16 pilot since 2015, died Dec. 8 when his aircraft crashed in Hiawatha National Park in Michigan’s upper peninsula during a training flight. The accident remains under investigation; no new information is available. Wisconsin Department of Military Affairs photo by Vaughn R. Larson

MADISON, Wis. — Maj. Durwood “Hawk” Jones was remembered as a kind, humble, loving, courageous and intelligent man during a memorial service April 17 at the Wisconsin Air National Guard’s 115th Fighter Wing. Gen. Daniel Hokanson, National Guard Bureau director, joined senior Wisconsin National Guard leaders, Wisconsin Air National Guard members and family and friends at the memorial, which concluded with a “missing man formation” flyover by pilots from the 115th Fighter Wing and the Oregon Air National Guard’s 123rd Fighter Squadron.

Jones, an F-16 pilot who went by the nickname of “Rocky” and the call sign “Hawk,” died Dec. 8, 2020 when his aircraft crashed in Hiawatha National Park in Michigan’s upper peninsula during a training flight. No new information is available concerning the crash, which remains under investigation.

“Today I have the honor and challenge of opening a tribute to a truly remarkable person,” said Lt. Col. Ryan Gaffaney, commander of the 115th Fighter Wing’s 176th Fighter Squadron, where “Hawk” had realized his dream to be a fighter pilot since 2015. “You all have to realize what an impossible challenge this is. ‘Rocky’ was larger than life. I could be up here for an eternity and barely scratch the surface.”

Col. Bart Van Roo, 115th Fighter Wing commander, agreed, calling the fallen pilot “one of the finest men I have ever known.”

“Durwood. Rocky. Hawk. Durhawk. Wentworth. Bullpen. Esquire,” Van Roo said, listing some of the fallen pilot’s other nicknames. “A guy with so many names must have been amazing.”

Gaffaney explained that “Hawk” was derived from physicist Stephen Hawking, because “Hawk” — who majored in integrated science at Northwestern University with a minor in physics — was considered brilliant by his peers.

“But ‘Hawk’ didn’t just fly fighters — he was a fighter pilot,” Gaffaney said. “A fighter pilot is not what we do, it’s who you are. The bond between fighter pilots is forged by the demands of a shared passion for an inherently dangerous profession, strengthened into trust, and codified by the blood, sweat and tears and emotional scars of combat. Through this tragedy, the brotherhood has been wounded.”

Hawk’s wife, Corinne, described her husband as “an amazing man, a loving husband, an adoring daddy, a dedicated son and brother, and above all to every one of us, a friend.”

Corinne listed her husband’s many interests and activities, including guitar and DJ, and noted he created a company on the side to address problems he saw at work — better maps for mission planning, a system to track jets and optimize scheduling, and watch-face morale patches. She said he had a zeal for life and a quest to excel at whatever he did.

“He wasn’t driven by ego — he was driven by a pure desire to just do well,” Corinne said. “He was one of those rare humans who understood what it was to be humble, and lived it.

“He didn’t hide his many talents — he just didn’t want to sky-write them,” she said. “He was the most interesting man in the world.”

Childhood friend Scott Pearsall said he and “Rocky” were part of an inseparable group in middle school, and said even back then, the influence of the friend who would become a fighter pilot could be seen.

“Looking back, I can see clearly how our close-knit friendships had an impact on our development as men,” Pearsall said. “We were all lucky to have Rocky as our friend, because he truly made us better. In many ways, Rocky was our glue.”

Pearsall described “Rocky” as an incredibly hard worker unafraid to take on challenges, who first revealed his desire to be a fighter pilot in the fourth grade, who doubled down on calculus or physics after struggling through an exam and pursued an integrated science major at Northwestern, and who developed skills that would lead him into the finance industry in Chicago. He noted that his friend won a Big Ten bass fishing tournament in 2005, using a Snoopy fishing pole.

“So when the commodities-trading DJ ‘Rocky’ Jones told me he was leaving the finance world to pursue his dream of becoming a fighter pilot, embarking on a multi-year odyssey that would involve private pilot training and a significant commitment of time, energy and resources, I knew that he would succeed because that’s what he always did,” Pearsall said. “No matter what he was doing, no matter how far his horizons stretched, Rocky was always the same kind, generous person at his core — that never changed, and it’s what made him so successful.”

Pearsall said “Rocky’s” legacy would be to treat others with kindness, being brave and being open to experiences.

Van Roo said he was one of the first to meet “Hawk” upon his arrival at the 115th Fighter Wing in 2015, and was struck by his kindness, intelligence and humility.

“In his first month he was asked to go to Okinawa on his first deployment to Asia,” Van Roo said. “I thoroughly enjoyed watching him as an energetic wingman grow into the competent four-ship flight lead that led us in Korea at the height of tension on the peninsula.”

In addition to U.S. Pacific Command Theater Support Package deployments to Japan in 2015 and Korea in 2017, “Hawk” deployed to Afghanistan with the 115th Fighter Wing again in 2019 in support of Operation Freedom’s Sentinel.

“That year in Afghanistan, early in the deployment, he earned a single-event combat air medal,” Van Roo said. “On this mission he and his wingman saved several coalition lives and gave the ground commander in theater complete confidence in our unit’s competence and skill.”

Van Roo said “Hawk” treated every person in the fighter wing with the utmost respect, and focused his energy on becoming a better pilot with rare dedication.

“He never let any of us forget how lucky we were to be part of this flying brotherhood, and I cannot thank him enough for that,” Van Roo said. His voice breaking with emotion, the commander said “Hawk” was a truly exceptional husband, father, leader, warrior and friend.

“And we’re all better for knowing him,” Van Roo said. Turning to the fallen pilot’s family, he continued. “Corinne, Lee, Kathy and Robert, thank you for sharing Rocky. And thank you, Hawk.”

Maj. Robert “Loco” Jones, “Hawk’s” brother and an F-15 pilot with the Oregon Air National Guard’s 123rd Fighter Squadron, read John Gillespie Magee Jr.’s poem, “High Flight.”

“It’s easy as pilots to forget the greatness of the things we get to do, and sometimes these experiences are necessary to show us what a great gift that we were given and how blessed we were to be able to participate in it,” Robert said. “And if you are sitting here today, you were blessed as well to by being able to experience ‘Rocky’ in your own way, because he was a gift to everyone who knew him.”

Oh, I have slipped the surly bonds of Earth

And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;

Sunward I’ve climbed, and joined the tumbling mirth

Of sun-split clouds — and done a hundred things

you have not dreamed of — wheeled and soared and swung

high in the sunlit silence. Hov’ring there,

I’ve chased the shouting wind along, and flung

My eager craft through footless halls of air …

Up, up the long, delirious burning blue

I’ve topped the wind-swept heights with easy grace

Where never lark, or ever eagle flew —

And, while with silent, lifting mind I’ve trod

The high untrespassed sanctity of space,

Put out my hand, and touched the face of God.

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