Support from the Sky: A Veteran’s Story (Part 4)

Part 4 in a series
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In September 1970 David Jensen flew a plane north from Pleiku, Vietnam, and crossed over Laos, along the Mekong River, into Nakhon Phanom (NKP) Thailand.

View from Thailand over the Mekong River into Laos

From this new vantage point, David’s day-to-day living circumstances improved.

I was pulled in really quick into the cohesive LDS group. Everybody had similar values and was trying to help each other out, and it was a lot better. I had the association with other church members, nice people to work with and I got to go to Bangkok every once in a while.

We were housed by squadrons, but there wasn’t any room when I go there so I needed a temporary place. I met a couple members of the church who were A-1E pilots; they did search and rescue in WW 2 fighters. Usually there are two persons in a hooch (what they called a room). They invited me to bunk with them and so we stacked the beds and had three in our hooch.

Three bunks in the hooch at NKP

Although his roommates were both captains and he was a 1st Lieutenant, it was a good living arrangement. Since they flew different missions and different aircraft, they weren’t always around at the same time. David stayed there the whole time and didn’t live in the same area as his squadron.

David was in the 23rd Tactical Air Support Squadron— NAILFAC. FAC stands for Forward Air Controller. His call sign was Nail 62. Usually, he flew early morning flights; he was up around 4 a.m. for a 5 a.m. intelligence briefing. He would take off a half hour before day break, flying about 45 minutes to his sector, where he would be “on target” for 4 1/2 to 5 hours.

The area he flew to was right up along on the border of North Vietnam. The Mekong River goes north along Thailand and then cuts directly west. NKP sits in that elbow right where it cuts to the west, right on the Mekong River.“When we took off, going into Laos, we were right into hostile territory,” he said.

David flew to the Mu Gia Pass, a mountainous area where the Ho Chi Minh Trail came from North Vietnam and more often to the Ban Kari Pass, which was a very high threat area with a lot of anti-aircraft fire.

The Dog's Head Ban Kari is also called the Dog’s Head. The river forms what looks like a dog’s head. That is what they called the sandbox. The B52s carpet-bombed the area so there was no vegetation growing with barren ground. It was really hard for the trucks to come across because they would be spotted.

Our job was to interdict the supply route. We were looking for stashes of supplies and ammunition. So I’d look for a road heading into the trees, dead ending into the trees. They had gun emplacements all along there.

I would use binoculars a lot. The visibility was real good because (the OV-10) has a bubble canopy. If you leaned to one side or the other, you could almost look straight down. It doesn’t take much of a bank to be able to look down. I never flew straight and level because if you flew straight and level you were a sitting target. I would constantly be banking and changing altitude.

Usually during the daytime they weren’t foolish enough to run trucks on the trail. They would bring trucks down at night and during the daytime they would park them under the jungle canopy. Rather than driving a truck all the way into South Vietnam they would drive a truck a couple of miles, unload it and someone else would pick it up there and drive it down a little further. You watched for things like that and then as you got closer to a target, they would start shooting at you, and you would know. The closer you got, the more they shot at you.

Sometimes he would find trucks driving up and down the road or parked underneath the canopy. Most of the trucks weren’t even camouflaged and were bright colors like bright blue in a sea of green. Sadly, they learned from intelligence people that come in from the ground that a lot of times the drivers were handcuffed inside the truck to the steering post. They could drive but they couldn’t get out of the truck and run. “That was kind of sad when we heard that,” David said. “You weren’t interested in killing the driver; you just want to get the truck.”

Normally, he would find a target and get the coordinates on the map then pass the coordinates to the command post. To keep the enemy from hearing him he would use a code wheel, a little square thing with a dial on it. Each number meant something, and it changed all the time. Or he would use Secure Voice, which was a scrambler on the radio and sounded like talking into a barrel.

We had a plane C-130 flying overhead in a safe area like the Gulf of Tonkin so that we could have radio contact. There would be a full colonel in the plane and he would be the person that would get the fighter support that we needed.

The anti-aircraft guns on the ground were mostly 37 mm.37 mm anti-aircraft gun

23 mm was probably the smallest they used at the altitude we were flying. They had 57 mm guns, which were pretty big. If I was after a gun I would try to get a Pave Way, 2000lb laser-guided bomb.

They would send a flight of F4s. When they are 25 miles away they check in with me. And I let them know where I was.

Then, David might say, “I am 2 clicks (2 km) below the Dog’s Head.”

And they would come and say, “Yep, Nail 62, we’ve got you. We’re circling.”

When they were above him at about 30,000 feet, he would say, “Okay, now I am going to talk you into the gun. You see my position. Just to the west of my position there is a stream going through there.”

And they would say, “Yeah we think we got it.”

And David would say, “At the edge of the stream are some trees. And the gun is sitting right in those trees.”

And they would say, “Okay. Can you mark the target?”

And David would say, “Yeah, I’ll roll into it.” So he would roll into the target.

That’s when the guns would start shooting at me, and the problem is that it wasn’t just one gun that would shoot at me, but there would be three or four, and they would try to catch me in the crossfire.

When I’d roll in, I’d roll upside down and pull myself down to the target inverted. I would never fire then because there were too many G’s. Then I would roll on to the target straight down, I would be in a 60 or 70 degree dive.

I’d flip my safety switch, and then I would squeeze off a round of white phosphorous rockets, Willie Pete. The enemy on the ground would watch to see which way I would pull off. I was going really high speed so they would try to lead me. So I would pull off to the right and I’d immediately reverse to the left. I’d pull up straight vertical pulling off the target. And just as I’m about the run out of air speed I’d get the rudder and I’d be looking over my shoulder to make sure I got it. Occasionally, I’d missed. Then I would rotate all the way down, 180 degrees. I’d flick into a hammerhead stall and I’m in position to fire again.

Usually the fighter pilots would be watching his show and would be cheering on the radio. They would say, “Nail 62 let’s get more of the acrobatics, we like that.”

Once he got to the the target and got the rocket on the ground and the white smoke is there, then he would say, “Okay, where my white smoke is, you can move five meters north of that smoke. That’s where the gun’s sitting.”

And then they would come in. David would be down about 6000 feet. One of the F4’s would come in at about 12000 feet and start circling and then illuminate the target.

The pilot would say, “I’m rolling in hot. You’re cleared to release.”

“Then a 2000 lb bomb would go right where that target was illuminated,” David said. “It would go off with tremendous explosion with shock waves going out. Huge trees were flying so far that it looked like everything was in slow motion.”

Sometimes, if he was lucky, he might find a good target out in the open. One time David remembers catching a bulldozer clearing the road. When he called the command post, they didn’t have any fighters overhead. They had a Wolf FAC, which is an F4 that flies real low level and goes real fast. David asked him to mark the target, which for the Wolf FAC was using a 20 mm gun. That killed the driver and stopped the dozer so it couldn’t go into the jungle while they waited for some other bombs to blow the tracks off it or blow it up.

Situations like these were how he did his job.

Throughout this stressful time, David’s wife, Loretta, was dealing with stress of her own. She was back in Utah, raising their new baby and pregnant with their second child who was due right near their daughter’s first birthday. Fortunately, they worked it out to meet in Hawaii in November, which was about a month or so before she was to deliver.

To get a ride out to his R and R—rest and recuperation—David had to fly with another pilot on a combat mission. “I was in my flight suit, sitting in the back seat while he is on his way to Danang.” He thought, “I’m out here risking myself, and I am going to R and R.”

Once in Hawaii they stayed in a motel near Waikiki. He was happy to see Loretta again and watch Lara, his daughter who was only ten months old but already walking, run under the table.

Loretta and baby daughter at LDS Temple in Hawaii

They visited the Polynesian Cultural Center and the LDS temple. It was a nice, relaxing time, but when they parted, it was a long flight back to Vietnam.


  1. compulsive writer
    Feb 21, 2008

    This is so interesting to me personally because not quite two years earlier my uncle, Captain Robert Alan Rex, was shot down over Laos. He had a pregant wife and child home in Provo, Utah, but they never saw him again and my one cousin has never met her father. Although they declared him killed in action in ’74, his family never gave up hope and never quit working to support the MIAs and POWs. It wasn’t until my the mid 90s that they found his remains and returned them to his family so he could be properly laid to rest.

  2. NailFAC
    Nov 5, 2009

    Any relation to Mark a. Jensen NKP 68/69

    Would you invite Dave to reply/call me or reply if possible?…

    I noticed the article is in second person removed but I would be appreciative of a call either way.

    I am an archivist for the Nail FACs of the 23rd TASS, a lot of information left out, a lot I can add if you are interested.

    During the Vietnam War there were more LDS officers per capita in aerial combat than any other religion, and a higher percentage is FACs and in hazardous assignments than any other religion.

    Col Al Matheson/Nail 213

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