Clayton M. Isaacson, World War II ace, commanded Joint Task Force LEO during Operation Dragon Rouge, one of the most dramatic airlift missions ever attempted. Born in Detroit Lakes, Minnesota, in 1919, he displayed his adventurous spirit at the age of 19 by riding his horse, "Smoky," 2,300 miles from California to Minnesota. After graduating from the Northwest School of Agriculture in Minnesota and attending Washington State University for three semesters, he enlisted in the United States Army in 1941. He earned his pilot wings and commission upon graduation from flight school at Ellington Field, Texas, in August 1942.
Isaacson was assigned to the 321st Light Bombardment Group in the Mediterranean Theater and flew 50 combat missions in the B-25 Mitchell. In 1943, he transitioned to the P-38 Lightning and was assigned to, and later commanded, the 96th Fighter Squadron--and added 78 more missions! Volunteering for duty in the Pacific, he was assigned in February 1945 to command the 7th Fighter Squadron where he added another 82 missions in the P-38. Following the war, he was one of the first assigned to fly jet fighters, and in 1947 he became Operations Officer of the 1st Fighter Group, March Field, California.
During the Korean War, Isaacson flew over 120 combat missions as the 51st Group Operations Officer and later as Tactical Inspector, Fifth Air Force. From 1951 to 1964, he served in numerous positions including Commander of the Air Force Fighter Weapons School at Nellis AFB, Nevada; Advisor to the Chinese Nationalist Air Force at Tainan Air Base, Taiwan; and as Chief of the Air Force Section, Military Assistance Advisory Group to Ethiopia. In July 1964, Isaacson was assigned as Chief, Special Plans Division, United States STRIKE Command at MacDill AFB, Florida, and for 5 months he commanded Joint Task Force LEO in the Republic of the Congo.
After commanding the 401st Tactical Fighter Wing at Torrejon AB, Spain, he was appointed Assistant Chief of Staff for Plans and Operations, US Air Forces in Europe in June 1967 and promoted to brigadier general. Before retiring in 1970, he commanded the 35th Air Division, NORAD, at Hancock Field, New York; and the 23rd Air Division, Air Defense Command, at Duluth International Airport, Minnesota.
By November 1964, Congolese rebels had taken over 1000 captives in Stanleyville, Republic of the Congo, including the American Consul and his four aides. On 24 November 1964, Colonel Isaacson, commander of Joint Task Force LEO, accompanied the C-130 Hercules force carrying 545 Red Berets of Belgium's elite First Paracommando Regiment on a mission to rescue the prisoners. The big airlift--headline news everywhere--was hailed around the free world as a magnificent display of military air power with a great humanitarian objective. In all, Colonel Isaacson flew 10 aerial missions during the operation and was awarded the Legion of Merit and the Order of Leopold II (Belgium).