Support from the Sky: A Veteran’s Story (Part 6)

Part 6 in a series
previous entries

Members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints serving at Nakhon Phanom (NKP) Thailand during the Vietnam War formed a support system for each other during difficult war-time situations. Being in combat day-in and day-out was stressful, and the active LDS group spent social time together talking, going out to eat and building a “real camaraderie.”

Sometimes they would get combat time off, maybe three to five days per month and occasionally go to Bangkok for a few days, where the LDS servicemen would visit interesting sites and go to district church meetings.

For the most part, the LDS servicemen tried to function in much the same way as a regular church unit would, even though they were in combat. They met at a certain time on the base chapel for Sunday meetings. “Most of us would be flying missions,” David Jensen said. “I would come in in my flight suit and play the organ with one hand so that we could sing the hymns. Other guys would come in and hang up their guns or M16s.”

David's roomates, Gary Haws (in civilian clothes) and Roger Witte (center), with another servicemanThey also participated in what is known as the “home teaching” program of the LDS church, which is a way for them to look after the temporal and spiritual welfare of assigned individuals.

The LDS group was 30% flight officers and the rest were enlisted men. “In the military it is kind of taboo to socialize with the enlisted people, but we did it because they were our brothers. Most of them were pretty young kids, two stripers, and some were just out of high school.”

David served as a district missionary with one of his roommates, Gary Haws. David had served an LDS mission for two years to Mexico and remembered the lessons he taught in Spanish. But when he would teach gospel lessons in Thailand, he would have to think about them in Spanish and then translate them in his head back into English before speaking them. They taught and baptized one young man from the base in a rice patty.

The active LDS were really very close. All of the other officers went to the officer’s club and drank at the bar. We (the LDS group) would have dinner together at the cafeteria and have Family Home Evening (an informal time, normally held with family on Monday night, to study the scriptures and teach each other the gospel).

While the LDS servicemen tried to normalize their lives, they were still at war, and tragedy touched their group, too. One of David’s good friends at NKP, Doug Sealey, was shot down in March 1971, just after the incursion. Doug was an LDS member that David had known back in Florida. They had gone through training at the same time.

He was on a night flight over Laos and was hit by a 37 mm anti aircraft fire. Eyewitnesses said he took a direct hit. His wife, Paula Sealey, was in Bangkok at the time. I went to Bangkok to tell her. At first, Doug was listed as missing in action. I told her that from all the reports I had, the flight exploded. Then, while we were there, he was listed as killed in action.

David arranged for Paula’s transportation back to the United States and escorted her back to Williams AFB near Phoenix. When they came out of the church after the funeral, there was a missing man flyover, and David presented her with the flag.

From there, David traveled to Utah to see his wife, Loretta, and his growing family. He met his second daughter, Camille, for the first time, who had been born in January. He spent a week with them and then returned to Thailand to finish his service.

The sorrows and stresses of the Vietnam war struck deeply in the hearts and lives of those who served and in their families and friends.

“I remember when the Vietnam War was over, and they released all the prisoners, I called Paula Sealey. I said, ‘Paula, don’t expect him to be coming home.’”

However, David discovered that despite these tragedies the vital relationships with other members of his faith, continued practice and understanding of his religion and the strength of his family supported him throughout his experiences and softened those pains.

1 Comment

  1. Michelle at Scribbit
    Mar 5, 2008

    What an interesting story–I had no idea!

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