Support from the Sky: A Veteran’s Story (Part 5)

Part 5 in a series
previous entries

In March 1971 David Jensen was assigned to a special mission called LAMSON 719, which was an incursion of South Vietnamese troops into Laos. He and other pilots operated off a runway at Quang Tri Army Base in Vietnam which was just south of the DMZ—the Demilitarized Zone, the no man’s land between North Vietnam and South Vietnam. “We flew off a runway made out of PSP, metal planking laid down in the sand, for 30 days in support of the South Vietnamese Rangers that were going into Laos,” David said.

Flying an OV-10 over the strike area

US Army helicopters were flying in support, as well. Both the airplanes and the helicopters flew a lot lower because there wasn’t as much antiaircraft fire; it was more small arms fire. The helicopters flew really low. One time David was talking to a Loach pilot and told him about a cave. The helicopter pilot went over to check it out and hovered just above it.

He said, “I can count some ponchos in there.”

David said, “Ponchos? You can see ponchos?” That was close!

David often flew with an Vietnamese Air Force officer in the back seat as a translator to interpret the radio contact from the people on the ground. “The South Vietnamese were always calling in air support,” David said. “Rather than fighting, they would rather have airplanes do the fighting for them.”

He describes one time the Vietnamese Rangers were being overrun by the enemy:

They had a secured area fire base, a place where they have artillery and put wire around it. They were being attacked on all sides. I was flying overhead, and I didn’t have any ordinance. But I had my own machine gun. So I started strafing the wire, right up close to where the enemy was with my machine guns. But I was a pretty small plane and didn’t do much good.

And I said, “I’ve got some Pave Ways. I can put them right down on top of you, but they’re really big bombs.”

The guy said, “They’re getting too close, we really need some help.”

So I laid down a 2000 lb bomb right close to the fence.

The guy came back on the radio and said, “No, no more of those, we are feeling the concussion.”

So we got some others in, and we tried to use Napalm, which is really accurate.

The pilots routinely received intense top secret briefings. The briefings covered rules of engagement including what they could strike and where they could strike. They would learn what villages were friendly; sometimes just one hut was a friendly village. The briefings also made David alert to the dangers that existed, that this was not a game, especially if they were shot down and caught.

“We carried a blood chit, it was small American flag in plastic. Written on it in a number of foreign languages was I am an American flier and my country will pay so much in gold for my safe return,” he said.

He also carried other things just in case: a pencil he never sharpened that had a file underneath the eraser; a tiny compass that if he was caught he was supposed to swallow and extract later to use; two radios; a pistol and ammunition; and water.

“I was in such a hot area, extremely hot with North Vietnamese regulars on the ground; they just don’t have any respect for life,” David said. “I heard stories about it in our briefings—don’t get caught because they aren’t going to treat you very well. And they didn’t, depending on who caught you.”

David was in the air when an F4 pilot got shot down right where the enemy was.

They were so close, he was whispering in the radio. He had his earpiece in his ear and he was whispering so they couldn’t hear him talk. A couple of times he said, “I can’t talk right now.”

They were within 10 feet of him, walking around trying to find him.

I told him, “I don’t have anything that can get close to you right now.” It was getting close to dark. “I’ve got you spotted, but I can’t get any rescuers.”

He said, “Bring the gas.” He said it in code word so I knew what it was. They have a certain kind of gas you can lay down that incapacitates everyone on the ground, including the pilot. Then they have to go in and pick him up and haul him up in the helicopter.

But I said, “Nah, I don’t have any ordinance.” You can’t send rescue in without clearing the area, too many enemy on the ground. We didn’t have any ordinance to clear out around him. I was talking to the command post and we didn’t have any ordinance, any aircraft that could help out.

I told him to find a place to hide and we would come back in the morning.

He said, “They’ll get me by then.”

I said, “No. We’ll come back and get you.”

The next morning, we did get him out. I didn’t get to go in, another guy did it. I wished I could have been there to say, “I’m back; I told you I’d be back.”

While David was never shot down himself, he came close one time. But it wasn’t from Vietnamese fire—it was a B52 carpet bombing.

Before a carpet bombing, the pilots would receive word that there was going to be an “arc light”, the code name for a B52 carpet bombing. Then the B52s would fly at 40,000 feet and drop 500 lb bombs almost continuously in one target area.

Sometimes, however, these strikes were diverted. Those diversions would be announced on the guard frequency, an emergency frequency.

David was using the radio all the time. He would talk to the ground on an FM radio. He would be talking to the fighters on UHF. He would leave the guard frequency on, too. Sometimes the guard frequency would come on in the midst of all this noise, but it would be broadcasting 100 miles away so he would turn it off.

One time that he turned off the emergency frequency, there was an arc light strike that came right over the top of him. He was flying at a pretty low altitude, and the aircraft started rolling back and forth.

And I said, “What on earth is this?” It felt like a lot of turbulence, but what it was was the concussions of the bombs coming towards me. I looked in back of me, and I saw on the ground this stream of explosions coming towards me. And I could imagine overhead there’s these 500 lbs bombs flying, and they were coming right toward my tail.

In an instant I went to full power and dove to the left, which drove me out of the way. I couldn’t go straight ahead. I couldn’t outrun the B52’s going 500 or 600 mph. So I just dove to the left. I got out the way and rolled back and those bombs went boom, boom, boom, boom, right over where I’d been.

Through such circumstances, he not only learned how to avoid mistakes in the future, but he also learned how to react well under pressure. As a result, he received highly positive reports of his work.

In one incident at the end of the mission, David discovered and marked a convoy of trucks, for which he later received the Distinguished Flying Cross. The Distinguished Flying Cross David was flying early one morning by himself after the ground troops had pulled out. He came upon a convey of trucks that were stopped under the cover of the trees.

There was a huge amount of them, probably 30 trucks, heavily loaded and laden with supplies. You usually don’t see that, maybe one or two trucks; this was a whole fleet of them. So I just got really excited, and I called the command post and said, “I’ve got multiple targets down here. I’ll take anything you have.”

They told him what they had, and he said he was going to need more.

Send me all you can get. I just rolled in and marked them, marked the front and the back, and we laid down a string of bombs. It was unbelievable! It was like 4th of July in St. Louis. Explosions were going off for two days afterwards.

When things had quieted down, he went back and saw “all the burned out hulks of trucks” and relaized the full scope of what they had accomplished.

In addition to receiving the Distinguished Flying Cross, he received the Vietnamese Cross of Gallantry, which is a Vietnamese awarded medal, for the LAMSON 719 operation. He returned to Nakhon Phanom (NKP) Thailand after the completion of that special mission.

1 Comment

  1. Carrie Jensen
    Mar 4, 2008

    It is so interesting to read of my father’s expeirences. It helps me to better understand who he is and what has made him into that person. To get to know an individual, it is so important to learn of someone life experience. Thank you.

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