Lt Col John “Jack” Jennings- Recipient of the Distinguished Flying Cross
Marine Pilot Lt Col John “Jack” Jennings, (Ret.), is the recipient of the Distinguished Flying Cross 52 years after the fact. He’s still carrying it around in his suitcase… because he’s still working at 88 years old/young.
On July 27, in a special ceremony at the Naval Support Activity Mid-South’s Marine detachment in Millington, Tennessee, he was awarded the medal for extraordinary heroism over the skies of Laos on April 29, 1966.
“We were scheduled to attack a particular position. But weather had come in and they now directed us to another target, significantly farther away that was a heavily defended pass on the Ho Chi Minh trail.” Lt Col John “Jack” Jennings
The Marine Corps Times reported,
His award citation recalls the ruthless combat over Laos on April 29, 1966, when then-Maj. Jennings was one of four Marines piloting A-4E Skyhawks out of their base in Chu Lai, Vietnam.
The other three belonged to the “Bulldogs” of Marine Attack Squadron 223. He was an officer from group headquarters who joined them, part of a Marine policy that kept aviators on staff in the fight.
They drew a mission to destroy a target deep behind enemy lines, but bad weather forced them to veer off and assault a heavily defended position along the Ho Chi Minh trail.
Led by then-Maj. Malcolm Hornsby, the team chattered on the radio about how far away it was. They calculated the amount of fuel they’d have left to get there and back to Chu Lai and decided to risk it. But it would be close.
They also knew an earlier strike that day had been aborted when the jets ran into heavy anti-aircraft fire that was guided by North Vietnamese radar.
Jennings told the MCT that he wasn’t concerned about the anti-aircraft guns as much as the needle on the fuel gauge hitting empty. He lost radio and visual contact with the other three pilots, but he kept on task, dropping bombs and taking out several anti-aircraft guns. As the fuel started to become critical, a large explosion caught his attention. A fellow Marine was hit – Capt. William Francis Mullen, 31.
According to his citation,
“He immediately began searching for any sign of his comrade and remained in the last known vicinity beyond his minimal return to base fuel state until he was certain search and rescue aircraft were inbound. By his steadfast determination, superb airmanship, and unexcelled dedication to duty in the face of hazardous flying conditions, Major Jennings reflected great credit upon himself and upheld the highest traditions of the Marine Corps and the United States Naval Service.”
Captain Mullen’s body was never found. He was eventually listed as killed-in-action, and his name is engraved on the Vietnam Wall in DC. Fortunately Jennings was able to land at Chu Lai.
Jennings’ flight leader, then-Maj Malcolm Hornsby, drafted paperwork for the Distinguished Flying Cross in 1966. But somewhere along the line, the paperwork never got far enough up the chain of command to be approved. Hornsby passed away. Three years ago, the quest began to find paperwork that would prove the heroism of both Mullen and Jennings. A Marine medal board documented the heroism from a letter writte by Hornsby to Jennings, and SecNav Richard Spencer approved it.
Jennings is still working. He is contracted with the Department of Homeland Security/FEMA and currently working somewhere along the Texas border.
“I don’t like to use the word ‘hero.’ Everyone who does this line of work for a living is a hero. There were guys who did a lot more than I did.” Lt Col John “Jack” Jennings, retired.