Support from the Sky: A Veteran’s Story (Part 2)

Part 2 in a series
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In the 1940’s Montana wasn’t yet known as “Big Sky Country” in American minds. Back then it was “High, Wide and Handsome.”

While David Jensen enjoyed Montana’s high mountains and the wide-open spaces in his childhood, especially those on his family farm, his vision was most often drawn to the sky. Born in 1943 in Fairfield, David was only five years old when he knew he wanted to fly. “My cousin, Dean Jensen, flew in World War II, the P40 Thunderbolt,” David said. “WP-51 Mustang on display at Webb AFB in 1969hen he came back home he was in the air guard. They would fly over our farm in P-51 Mustangs at really low levels and buzz our farm.”

He began asking, “How do you become a pilot?” and with answers to those questions, he began planning for his future.

When he graduated high school in 1961, he went to college at Montana State College in Bozeman, MT, and joined the Air Force ROTC (Reserve Officer’s Training Corps). David served a mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints from 1963-1965 and then went to Brigham Young University in Provo, UT. There he met Loretta Searle of LDavid and Loretta Jensen on the day he receives private pilot's licenseehi, UT, and they married in Salt Lake City in May 1967.

That summer he was an ROTC cadet, and Loretta took a job as a secretary in the ROTC office. She was involved in providing administrative services for the flight instruction program and was able to go through the private pilot ground school herself. She scored higher than some of the cadets did. He received his private pilot’s license in November 1967.

David graduated from BYU in January 1969. He was given a commission to 2nd Lieutenant and began undergraduate pilot training at Webb Air Force Base in Big Spring, TX, in February. Pilot training was an intense David flying a T37 with an instructor in pilot training at Webb AFBtime. The ground work and the flying were both highly competitive with candidates competing against each other for pilot spots.

A year later, he graduated pilot training and received his pilot wings. He was 9th out of 52 pilots, which gave him a choice of aircraft. The aircraft he chose was the OV-10 Bronco. It was a single pilot plane, high performance, and specialized.

“If you chose a 2-pilot aircraft, then you would start as a copilot. If you went to a single pilot plane then you had command of your aircraft and you made all the decisions on your airplane,” he said. That was something he really liked once he began flying in combat. “I was in there by myself, and I didn’t have to be responsible to anyone else. I could fly it like I wanted to fly it.”

He also prized its maneuverability. “It would turn on a dime, literally.”

In choosingLoretta and David at Webb AFB.jpg that aircraft in 1970 in the midst of Vietnam War, he knew he was choosing to go to the war zone in Southeast Asia and would be flying combat missions.

The next six months he prepared with additional Air Force training, but he was also preparing his family. Loretta had given birth to a baby girl, Lara, in January, and they made plans for the year-long separation.

David attended Air Force Survival School in Spokane Washington for two or three weeks in February where he participated in lectures, practical experience and a special class on encryption writing. He was confined to a tiny hut in a mock prisoner of war situation, and the cramped space cut the blood off in his legs. They also hiked into the winter mountains, were captured in a mock drill and had to escape and learn to survive.

In the course on encryption writing he learned to put code inside of messages in case he was caught by the enemy. He continued to practice encryption with a monthly encoded letter every month as long as he was in the Air Force.

In March David and his family headed south again. He spent an enjoyable week of water survival at Homestead Air Force Base in Florida, which also included parasailing and practice releasing from a parachute. Following that, they moved to Eglin Air Force Complex in Fort Walton Beach Florida for a few months.

At Hurlbert Air Field – Auxiliary Field #9, David flew the OV-10 every day and received training on navigation, instrument flying, single engine emergencies and combat training to shoot the guns and rockets.

The OV-10 is a light attack aircraft with four machine guns and four external pods of rockets. In these, they carried two pods of white phosphorus marking rockets that they called WP or Willie Peet. They carried two pods of high explosive rockets. The plane was also equipped with four machine guns.

“The first time I went to the bombing range, I asked if I needed to wear my G Suit. The instructor said no, but he came out wearing his,” David said. “G maneuvers pull blood out of your head. The G suit is like a girdle. It looks like a pair of chaps that a cowboy would wear. It runs off of air pressure; it constricts around your middle and keeps you from pasDavid wearing a G Suit by a T38 at Webb AFB.jpgsing out. We pulled out to the target and that was the first time I ever passed out in an aircraft.”

Despite that experience, he came out of Eglin feeling confident that he knew how to handle the plane. “Confidence grows when you are flying by yourself,” he said, and that only continued once he deployed. “In Vietnam, after a couple of hairy missions, I felt really confident.”

At the end of this training in June, David settled his wife and daughter in an apartment in Provo, UT, near her parents and left for Southeast Asia the first part of July. He had just turned 27 years old.

“I think as I was preparing to go over, I thought, it is kind of heroic going off to war,” he said. “I think the thing that hit me the hardest was the loneliness of the situation—being away from my family, thinking that I might not come home. The homesickness took several weeks to get over. I was in a strange area, I didn’t have any friends, and I didn’t know anybody.”

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