Joe McConnell was born on January 30, 1922, in Dover, New Hampshire. He enlisted in the U.S. Army on October 15, 1940, and served in the Medical Corps until entering the Aviation Cadet Program of the U.S. Army Air Forces in 1943. McConnell was commissioned a 2d Lt and awarded his Navigator Wings on September 18, 1944, and after completing B-24 Liberator training, he joined the 448th Bomb Group in England in January 1945. Lt McConnell flew 60 combat missions before the war ended, and entered pilot training in 1946, earning his pilot wings at Williams AFB, Arizona, on February 25, 1948. After serving in various fighter squadrons in the U.S., Lt McConnell joined the 39th Fighter-Interceptor Squadron of the 51st Fighter-Interceptor Wing in Korea in September 1952, where he was credited with the destruction of 16 enemy aircraft in aerial combat plus 5 damaged before returning to the U.S. in May 1953. Capt McConnell next served with the 435th Fighter Squadron at George AFB, California, and was killed while testing an F-86H Sabre near Edwards AFB, California, on August 25, 1954. He was buried at the Victor Valley Memorial Park in Victorville, California. Joseph McConnell remains the highest-scoring American jet ace, and he was the top American ace during the Korean War.
His Distinguished Service Cross Citation reads:
The President of the United States of America, under the provisions of the Act of Congress approved July 9, 1918, takes pleasure in presenting the Distinguished Service Cross to Captain Joseph McConnell, Jr., United States Air Force, for extraordinary heroism in connection with military operations against an armed enemy of the United Nations while serving as a Pilot with the 39th Fighter-Interceptor Squadron, 51st Fighter-Interceptor Wing, FIFTH Air Force, in action against enemy forces in the Republic of Korea on 18 May 1953. Leading two F-86s on an air superiority mission over North Korea, he sighted a formation of twenty-eight MIG-15 type aircraft. Determined to accomplish his mission and with complete disregard for the numerical odds against him, he immediately attacked. Although under fire himself, he pressed his attack to such extent that he completely disorganized the enemy formation, destroying one of the MIGs and damaging another. Several enemy aircraft were then firing at him but, seeing that the other Sabre in his flight was also being fired upon, he completely ignored enemy cannon fire directed at himself and destroyed the MIG that was pursuing his wingman. These victories, in spite of counterattacks by such superior numbers, completely unnerved the enemy to the extent that they withdrew across the Yalu before further attacks could be made. Through his courage, keen flying ability and devotion to duty, Captain McConnell reflected great credit upon himself, the Far East Air Forces, and the Untied States Air Force.