John Jaacks grew up on a farm in Des Plaines, Illinois, where he remembers as a 16-year-old watching a small airplane practicing landings nearby in 1943 during WWII. He became determined to fly. He attended the University of Illinois at Urbana in chemical engineering and AF-ROTC, hoping to become a pilot after graduation. However, the military was downsizing after the war and there was no room for young pilots. When the Korean War started in 1950, he enlisted in the Air Force in hopes of flying, but again no luck. (His father tried to convince him to leave for a business near home.) Eventually, however, he managed to get into an Aviation Cadet program resulting in a commission as a Radar Intercept Officer.

He was stationed in Western Alaska flying fighter jets on patrol to intercept any intruding Soviet bombers. He passed around photos of planes he had flown, including the F-86 D, which had been modified for additional radar and other electronic equipment, making it a less maneuverable aircraft. He found his life ambition in aviation, after having been told so many times that he couldn’t do that. “You can’t always succeed in challenges, but never give up.”

Many years later he took a master’s degree program in Professional Writing at USC, and with encouragement of his instructor he wrote a book about his military experience, “Contrails: Memoirs of a Cold Warrior”, which required 3 years to write but is now available on He read excerpts from this book discussing his early years.