Support from the Sky: A Veteran’s Story


War is a complicated story to tell. War may be an even more complicated story to understand.

Think of it like a parent settling a fight between siblings. Both children will tell their story; yet, as every parent knows, key information to judge who is right and who is wrong is probably still missing. War is similar on a much larger scale. ThKen Burn’s PBS documentary The Warese conflicts are complex, intricate and involved, as are the solutions.

Time and perspective help. Watching Ken Burn’s PBS documentary The War has shown me that personal anecdotes and accounts from ordinary soldiers alongside a chronology of crucial events are vital to understanding.

I was born on an Air Force base in the early 1970’s about 10 months after my dad returned from the Vietnam War. I thought every plane in the sky was “Daddy’s Ane.” Tourist treasures from Thailand decorated our home. As a toddler I played on the back of a wooden elephant, or “phoo-phant” as we called it, in our living room. As a teenager I marked the hours I talked on the phone by the chirp of the cuckoo clock. While my life’s proximity was close to this important war in history, I struggled, like many others in our country, to comprehend the Vietnam War.

In high sw’school, my history class wasn’t enough for me. So, for my senior year I devised an independent study course for myself using as my text w’sw’sw’sw’s. Still, it wasn’t until I began interviewing my dad in 2007 about his story as a veteran that I finally grasped a fuller perspective of the war through which I could draw my own conclusions.

Up until that time the Vietnam veteran that I envisioned from movies and books seemed to be a hard-living man who was scarred emotionally by a destructive and confusing conflict. Even worse, I got the feeling that these men were pitied for their sacrifices rather than revered. Since my dad’s experiences were not common dinner-table conversation I wondered if he, too, had horrible hidden pains. But as he told me when I asked why he never talked about his time in Vietnam, “You never asked.”

More often than not our discomfort with war or our divisive opinions keep us from asking questions and receiving important answers about a war story from the veterans themselves.

In the coming weeks, I will be writing a series of posts from my interviews with the Vietnam veteran I know best, my dad. David Jensen served as a pilot in the Air Force from 1969-1974, flying the OV-10 Bronco in combat in Southeast Asia from July 1970-July 1971.

During his service, he adapted to difficult and lonely living conditions. He developed confidence flying in harrowing situations. He learned from his and others’ mistakes. He grieved for friends and comforted their families. He sharpened his vision looking for enemy targets. He learned his job as a Forward Air Controller and gave his best. He was awarded eleven air medals and the Distinguished Flying Cross, a US military decoration awarded for heroism or extraordinary achievement in aerial combat.

And through it all, his dedication to his family, his job, his country and his faith supported him while he gave support from the sky.

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2 Comments

  1. DoD
    Feb 1, 2008

    I too was a Vietnam “era” veteran. I was in Germany waiting to go vanquish the foe. I was almost disapointed when the war ended early. Although I never saw a combat zone, I was close enouth to enough returnees to understand the story. I knew every battle and heard every story. And, yes, the stories stopped after I came home. It was difficult to get men to talk about their experiences. I did have some success. So I did draw some conclusions.
    These men felt they were doing the right thing. they gave their hearts and lives to prove that point.
    I used to believe that the protestors and draft dodgers were simply cowards. I still believe that. I served proudly as an infantry officer. I later served proudly as an intelligence officer. The men I served with were some of the most intelligent, honorable men I have ever known. They knew the cause they defended. It was just that the cowards belittled them so they shut up.
    I learned how the media [read cowards) distorted the stories to drive their point. One friend was sitting in a bunker in the middle of a fire fight listening to the radio telling the story about how we better not be in Cambodia. His problem was that he was commanding a large unit in Cambodia and they were in the fight of their lives. The media denied the presence of communist country support when I know men who were overrun by battalions of Russian and Chinese tanks.
    Vietnam was a real cause. Millions died when we abandoned them.
    Although I never saw battle, I was proud to serve at that time in history. Too bad I have never worn that honor with pride.

  2. Michelle at Scribbit
    Feb 3, 2008

    Thanks for the recommendation, I was so young during that time and we never studied it in school (I think the history was too fresh to accurately teach) so the Vietnam Era is a big void in my historical knowledge.

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