By Airman 1st Class Benjamin Kim, 1st Special Operations Wing Public Affairs
/ Published August 29, 2013
HURLBURT FIELD, Fla., --
A man walks into the Hurlburt Field Air Park and notices he flew one of the planes during Vietnam--no, Kenneth Krohn actually flew the exact plane with the exact same tail number during the Vietnam War, as well as the C-123 Provider, albeit less frequently.
"We go out [to Hurlburt Field] once in a while to fix things, and one day I had a little extra time," Krohn said. "I wandered up to the OV-10 [Bronco] and I looked at the tail number and I thought, 'that sounds familiar--really familiar!' So I went home that night to check and sure enough, it was the one I flew in Vietnam."
Krohn, the owner of a local machine repair shop, sat in his seat and reminisced about his days as a pilot. He would constantly look up with a palpable nostalgia that harshly crinkled his eyes from the wide, youthful smile plastered across his 70-year-old face. Almost like a fairy tale, each puff of smoke from his cigarette came with tales of daring feats and comical anecdotes, easily acquired from the 20 medals earned during the Vietnam War and throughout his military career.
"We were flying a passenger run that took off from Phan Rrang Air Base to Da Nang Air Base," he said, recalling one of his most frightful experiences during the Vietnam War. "We were going from Nha Trang Air Base over to Pleiku Air Base, and one of the engines went out. That's not a good thing, don't like that at all, but we were puttering on in there and the other engine started acting up--that makes [your eyes water] a lot."
Although Krohn claimed flying in a plane with failing engines proved to be the epitome of fright during his time in the war, he followed it with another.
"Oh, one time I got chased by a MIG!" he said, referring to the Russian fighter aircraft. "I was out flying and they have karsts that are almost straight up and down. So I got down in the karsts, and the OV-10 is very maneuverable, and I could maneuver around there, and he couldn't maneuver with me. So after about 15-20 minutes he obviously ran out of fuel and he went home and I was able to get back out."
Whether Krohn received any fire from the MIG is still a mystery to him, however, as he narrowly prevented crashing his plane from the escape.
"I was scared but very relieved when he left," he said. "I don't know whether he did [shoot] or not, I didn't see anything--I was too busy making sure I didn't run into mountains."
Not all the memories consisted of perilous scenarios. Krohn enjoyed many humorous and amusing experiences as well. He recalled receiving a task to fly some Vietnamese passengers around. The transport proved uneventful.
"About three weeks later, the base commander got a thank-you letter from some Vietcong general, thanking us for giving his people a ride to wherever it was we took them to," he said. "Here we are, hauling the enemy around!"
Eventually, Krohn made his way to his favorite plane. He starred at it, longingly, like a star-crossed lover unable to truly reunite while in arms reach. But the expression on his face exuded happiness rather than the sadness of losing an old friend.
"I really, really enjoyed this plane," he said. "I don't know how to emphasize strong enough how much I enjoyed it, it was great."
Born and raised on a farm in Iowa, his father owned a farm 60 miles due east from Offutt Air Force Base, Neb., and consequently, Krohn saw Air Force aircraft constantly flying overhead while diligently, and sometimes begrudgingly, working on his father's farm. His love of flying started, simply enough, as a way to escape a life of farming.
"Man, I wanted to fly so bad, that way I didn't have to do the farm work anymore," he said. "If you've ever had to clean barns and things like that, you'd know where I'm coming from."
His wish came true superlatively through the menacing dangers of the Vietnam War. While decades passed him, absent of flight, the look in his eyes as he starred at his OV-10 proved that his heart stayed in the high, blue sky.