Support from the Sky: A Veteran’s Story (Part 7)


Part 7 (final post) in a series
previous entries

David Jensen saw first hand the results of leadership decisions in the Vietnam War. That sometimes caused David to wonder about the way leaders like Robert McNamara, the secretary of defense, decided what to do. He said:

McNamara had a real technological way of handling things and tried to solve the war through technology. They would track truck traffic. We kind of laughed at it; we knew a lot of trucks got down and back and made a lot of trips. We would say to ourselves, ‘It’s not working.’

Even though David sometimes disagreed with certain decisions, he always mentally aligned himself with the military and knew they had an important job to do. Since the only real news they received was the Air Force Times newspaper, he didn’t pay much attention to the news events in the United States or the increasing protests against the war.

“Everything was pro military and pro war.” David said. “When you are in the military that’s the way it is. You’re on that team.

David was chosen as a flight instructor for OV-10s to check out other pilots for combat and as a functional test pilot for the OV-10, even though he was a fairly young officer. “When the aircraft had battle damage, and had been worked over, I would take it without external pods over friendly territory and run it through its paces.”

Nail Fac SquadronOne day, a month before he came home, David was in the intelligence briefing room. Roger Witte, his roommate, was out flying A1s over Northern Laos.

Roger’s wing man came into the briefing room and asked David, “Have you heard?”

David said, “Heard what?” Roger Witte had taken a hit and had been killed.

Roger had been a good roommate and friend who often liked to joke around. He was also a spiritual leader, serving the LDS servicemen as their group leader. His faith lived on in an artistic creation he made before his death:

He had painted a mural on the inside of our hooch of the creation of the world that he taken from a church book. After he died, the base engineer cut the plywood wall out and shipped it all back to his wife.

Gary Haws, David’s other roommate, was almost ready to go home, and he escorted the remains back to the United States and made all the funeral arrangements. David’s faith helped him to keep perspective when death came. He said:

You kind of look at life a lot differently. We were saddened, but I guess we just moved ahead. It was our job. Those who didn’t have a gospel perspective, they would drink a lot to deal with it.

In July 1971 David Jensen was reassigned out of Nakhon Phanom (NKP) Thailand to come back to the United States. His assignment was to be a flight instructor in the T38 back in Big Spring, TX, where he had gone to pilots’ school.

Big Spring, Texas

Many news or movie images of returning Vietnam veterans show men struggling to adjust to the routines of life after the war. For David, though, the return transition wasn’t difficult. This time he was coming back into familiar territory. “I don’t think it was traumatic for us. Maybe for those on the ground it was worse. It was good to be home, to be back with my family and involved with them,” he said.

Probably the most difficult part for him was the realization that many people in the United States did not respect the work the veterans had done. He said:

It was that time when everyone hated that we were in the war. We came home and we couldn’t figure out what was going on. We thought we should be welcomed home as heroes; but we were not.

Personally, he felt a sense of accomplishment in his service. He was honored with other pilots at an impressive award ceremony at Webb Air Force Base, with the returning men all dressed in their blues. The wing commander came by and presented him with his awards including eleven air medals and the Distinguished Flying Cross.

Award Ceremony At Webb Air Force Base 1971

In 2006, David Jensen stood in front of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C. He found the names of Roger Witte and Doug Sealy among over 55,000 names on The Wall and made a tracing of them. He remembered them and reflected on his experiences. “I had served my country. I did my job. I continued to do my job.”

As a fther, he has since shared his story, a piece at a time with his family. David’s son, Steven Jensen, wrote his impressions toward his father’s service:

What is heroism? In war it is going above and beyond the call of duty to protect your comrades and the citizens of your nation. It has aspects of altruism, perhaps it is altruism. . . the foregoing of the self, what “I” want and, instead, serving others.

The service that veterans give is indeed an immeasurable support to the United States of America and all its citizens. Their stories show how they and their families, individually, have born the weight of conflicts to provide protection and freedom to citizen and non-citizen alike, most often without recognition. Each story, like this one, is a memorial of those sacrifices.

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2 Comments

  1. Carrie Jensen
    Mar 17, 2008

    Thank you!

  2. Dan Dantzler
    Sep 20, 2011

    Thank you for your excellent description of your father’s military service. I was an US Army helicopter pilot and served three tours in RVN, yet I learned a lot about USAF life and how their missions operated from your writings..

    I also appreciate your description of the spiritual life your father and his LDS brothers experienced. I can’t remember any LDS members in the units I served in although there may have been some. I have served with LDS members in stateside assignments and they socialized together and always practiced the spiritual disciplines you explained.

    As a born again Christian I had the same spiritual values as David. I did not fear death but I did not want my wife and daughters to suffer my loss. I realized that God sent his son to accomplish a mission. My mission was different but I realized that I could not expect better treatment than God’s own Son.

    I have an experience I would like to share with you. Please email to dantzd@gmail.com.

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