Joe Shannon was born on May 11, 1921, in Coal Valley, Alabama. He enlisted in the Alabama National Guard on July 8, 1939, and went on active duty with the U.S. Army Air Corps on November 25, 1940. Shannon served as a Crew Chief before entering the Aviation Cadet Program of the U.S. Army Air Forces on January 14, 1942, and he received his pilot wings at Napier Field, Alabama, on October 12, 1942. He deployed to Northern Ireland as a P-38 Lightning pilot with the 97th Fighter Squadron of the 82nd Fighter Group in November 1942, and then participated in the invasion of North Africa and then Italy between December 1942 and September 1944. Shannon was commissioned a 2nd Lt on November 1, 1943, and during this time he was credited with damaging 1 aircraft in aerial combat and destroying 3 more on the ground while strafing enemy airfields. Lt Shannon next transferred to the China-Burma-India Theater, where he served as a B-25 Mitchell pilot with the 2nd Weather Reconnaissance Squadron from September 1944 until returning to the U.S. in August 1945. Capt Shannon left active duty on December 31, 1946, and joined the Alabama Air National Guard on January 1, 1947. He was recalled to active duty from May 16, 1951 to January 16, 1953, and then served as commander of the 106th Bomb Squadron of the 117th Reconnaissance Wing in the Alabama ANG, where he flew the A-26 Invader. Col Shannon was called on to aid the CIA in training for the Bay of Pigs Invasion, and was one of the American pilots that flew in the invasion between April 17-19, 1961. He also served on active duty from October 1, 1961, to September 30, 1962. His final assignment in the Alabama ANG was as Safety Officer for the 117th Tactical Reconnaissance Wing from December 1964 until his retirement on September 28, 1972. During World War II, Col Shannon flew 70 combat missions in the Mediterranean Theater and another 32 combat missions in the China-Burma-India Theater. He was inducted into the Alabama Aviation Hall of Fame in 1999. Joe Shannon died on January 5, 2010, and was buried at the Elmwood Cemetery in Birmingham, Alabama.
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 windswept heights with easy grace
Where never lark, or even eagle flew -
And, while with silent lifting mind I've trod
The high untresspassed sanctity of space,
Put out my hand and touched the face of God.