Hensell, Ron, Capt

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USAF Veteran
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Current/Last Primary AFSC/MOS
Current/Last AFSC Group
Primary Unit
1968-1970, 1535B, 13th Air Force
Previously Held AFSC/MOS
Service Years
1965 - 1971
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Tactical Air Command Pacific Air Forces

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C-130 Hercules 1000 Hour C-130 Hercules 2000 Hour

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What are you doing now:
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Various Air Missions over North Vietnam
From Month/Year
January / 1965
To Month/Year
May / 1973

Various Air Missions and sorties over North Vietnam
My Participation in This Battle or Operation
From Month/Year
January / 1967
To Month/Year
December / 1968
Last Updated:
Mar 16, 2020
Personal Memories

19 missions.

During my first rotation to Phan Rang AB, I had the most frightening mission of my time in Vietnam.

The B-57 was (is) a twin engine “fighter bomber” airplane with a rotating internal bomb bay, four pylons for wing bombs, and with machine guns to allow it to serve in a bombing or a staffing role.  On each mission, we would take off, climb to about 45,000 feet and usually take about an hour or two to get to our target or assigned “loiter” area.  The plane could loiter for more than an hour if we did not descend below about 30,000 feet.  For a bomb run, we would descend to about 10,000 feet AGL, enter into about a 30 degree dive, release our bombs at about 4,000 feet and then pull out of the dive, ending at about 2,000 feet AGL.  We carried many of the nasty conventional bombs you’ve ever heard of.  Our strafing runs would begin much lower and end as low as we had the nerve.

We flew in North Vietnam only at night because the North Vietnamese generally had only 37 and 57 millimeter anti-aircraft guns which were visually and radar operated and we were more difficult to see at night.  They used tracers at night to help sight their weapons on their target.  The plan was to have one tracer for every five rounds.  Our planes had primitive SAM detectors but they were so poor that we did not turn them on because we had no defense in the event a SAM locked on to us.  We figured we just didn’t want to know.  The North Vietnamese army (NVA) did not deploy SAM’s in the southern portion of North Vietnam where we were assigned or we would not have been able to work there.
North Vietnam generally maintained blackout conditions, with no artificial lighting, at night . It was very eerie going from occasional lights on the ground in the south until the North Vietnam border and then no unnecessary lights in the North. You could actually make out the border between north and South Vietnam from the contrast.

In North Vietnam we were assigned "targets of opportunity" meaning that with the help of intelligence indicating where potential targets were, we were to choose, for ourselves, one of several locations to bomb.  We would look for lights on the ground which, on a moonless or overcast night, had to be trucks.  We loved dark moonless or high overcast nights because then trucks had to use their lights and we could, therefore, see them, especially since no other lights were on.  We could only dive bomb at night because we could not see to strafe.  We had all our navigation and cockpit (except red) lights off so that the NVA could not see our lights.

We normally flew as a consistent pair but frequently flew as a part of another two man crew when our corresponding crew member was ill or on leave. Col. (then Major) Norris Overly usually flew with Capt. (Lt Col after death) Gaylord Peterson.

One night I was assigned to be Major Overly's navigator-bombardier on a mission to North Vietnam while Capt Peterson was on leave.  This was a good dark night.

The mission started as usual with a high altitude flight of about two hours to North Vietnam and then a descent to our loiter altitude of about 30,000 feet.  We saw very promising lights at our secondary target at the North Vietnam end of the Ho Chi Minh trail and decided to initiate our bomb run.  Early into our bomb run we encountered ground fire which manifested itself in the form of tracers fairly near us.  We often encountered ground fire but usually it was not very near us…this time it was pretty close.  We continued the run but the tracers began to get a little too close for our comfort so we aborted the run.  Kind of makes the hair stand up on the back of your neck.

We climbed back to altitude and after discussion decided the target must be pretty important so we should go back in again in spite of our mounting concern.

This time the ground fire was intense as we went in.  They must have had us in their radar sights.  The tracers were so intense that it was like being in shower with the water coming up at you and yet you’re not getting wet…keeping in mind each tracer represented five 37 millimeter bullets.  It seemed impossible that they missed us but they did.  Once again we aborted the run and climbed to altitude.  I can tell you we were very shaken!  That mission literally scared the fear out of me.  I don’t recall ever being that frightened again, even during various mortar attacks on our bases and other hairy flight missions.
We discussed our options and decided that if we went in a third time we would be toast with no cinch we’d hit the target anyway.

We decided that since that target was so dangerous and since we were unable to locate our primary target and since we were getting low on fuel we should abort the entire mission.  We went out over the South China Sea and dropped our bombs over the open water.

On September 11, 1967 on a very similar mission and maybe even the same general target, Major Overly and his regular navigator, Captain Peterson, were shot down. Major Overly was captured by the North Vietnamese and Captain Peterson was killed.  Major Overly was not badly hurt in his bail-out and and helped nurse Admiral John McCain Jr to "health."  Major Overly was released somewhat early as a bargaining gesture by the North Vietnamese, much to the chagrin of Admiral McCain who was, by then, the de-facto commander of the POWs.

My Photos From This Battle or Operation
No Available Photos

  208 Also There at This Battle:
  • Abbott, Joseph S., Lt Col, (1954-1977)
  • Alexander, Fernando, Lt Col, (1952-1979)
  • Aman, Earl David, Lt Col, (1961-1981)
  • Apodaca, Victor Joe, Maj, (1961-1967)
  • Ballsmith, James, Maj, (1957-1977)
  • Bluford, Guion Stewart, Col, (1964-1993)
  • Bopp, Timothy, Sgt, (1966-1970)
  • Broughton, Jacksel Markham, Col, (1945-1968)
  • Burgess, James, Lt Col, (1966-1987)
  • Butler, William, Sgt, (1965-1969)
  • Clark, Arthur, Capt
  • DeGraaf, Leland, Sgt, (1966-1970)
  • Dramesi, John Arthur, Col, (1955-1982)
  • Estey, Ron, A1C, (1964-1968)
  • Griffin, Tom, TSgt, (1966-1986)
  • Guigno, Charles, SSgt, (1966-1972)
  • Hebdon, Walter [Cecil], SSgt, (1961-1969)
  • Hoffson, Arthur Thomas, Col, (1965-1992)
  • Holcombe, Kenneth E., Capt
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