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Biography of Oluf T. Jensen (1896-1988)

  • Published

Oluf T. Jensen, a Danish immigrant, was an important member of the U.S. Army Air Service/U.S. Army Air Corps lighter-than-air (LTA) operation at Scott Field, Illinois during its entire duration from 1921-1937.  A veteran of WWI in Europe and WWII in the Pacific, he completed 33 years of honorable service in the U.S. Army and Air Force, enlisting in 1917 as an Army Private and retiring in 1949 as an Air Force Major.

Jensen enlisted as a Private in the U.S. Army in September 1917 and served with the 36th Division in WWI.  After the Armistice, he served in Germany as a member of the Allied Occupation Forces.  While in Germany, he was the coxswain of the Army Team that won the four-oared skulls competition during the 1920 Olympic trials in Koblenz.  It was in Koblenz that he joined the very first post of the American Legion, beginning a lifelong membership with that organization.  

Upon returning from Germany, Jensen was assigned to Scott Field, Illinois, with its new mission as a major Army LTA operation, including the Army Balloon and Airship School and Intermediate Air Depot.  Jensen would remain at Scott Field as an NCO in charge of gas and balloon/airship rigging for the remainder of the LTA era.   As an experienced rigger, Jensen was the 21st Airship Group’s “go-to guy” on all matters regarding erection and repair of airships, balloons and parachutes.  He served as a U.S. Army Balloon Team member at all national and international balloon races from 1921-1936.  He accompanied the Goodyear RS-1 airship on it 1926 trip to Dearborn, Michigan, where the ship docked at industrialist Henry Ford’s private airship mooring mast.  He packed the parachutes for Air Mail pilot Charles A. Lindbergh (who parachuted from four aircraft during the 1920s) and aviatirix Amelia Earhart.  In 1926, he participated in the testing and test jumping of the new triangle parachute at Dayton, Ohio.  In 1934 and 1935, he served as a parachute and balloon rigger for the U.S. Army Air Corps/National Geographic Society Stratosphere Balloon Flights, Explorer and Explorer II, launched from the “Stratobowl” box canyon near Rapid City, South Dakota.  When the Explorer balloon envelope tore in 1934, the three-man crew escaped with their lives in parachutes packed by Sgt Jensen.  At the launch of Explorer II in November 1935, Jensen was part of the Scott Field team that repaired a sudden tear in the balloon envelope during inflation and allowed the mission to proceed, setting a world altitude record of over 72,000 feet.  He witnessed the entire 17-year LTA era at Scott Field, including the construction and destruction of the LTA facilities. 

Prior to June 1, 1940, Technical Sergeant Jensen was one of 13 Scott Field non-commissioned officers (NCOs) transferred to other units, as experienced NCOs were needed in the many new Air Corps units being formed on the eve of WWII.  He was assigned as Chief of the Armament Section to Bellows Field, Hawaii, and witnessed the Japanese Navy attack on Pearl harbor and surrounding installations (including Bellows Field) on December 7th, 1941. 

On June 13, 1942, Jensen received a direct commission as a 1st Lieutenant and was assigned as chief of armament in the 26th Bombardment Squadron and 11th Bombardment Group engaged in combat against the Japanese on Guadalcanal and Tulagi in the Solomon Islands.  In 1943, he also served in North Africa.  In July 1944, Capt Jensen was assigned to Mountain Home Army Airfield, Idaho, as an armament officer before being assigned to Headquarters, Second Air Force at Peterson Field in Colorado Springs, Colorado, in charge of standardization and indoctrination of B-29 Superfortress operations.  In February 1949, Jensen retired from the Air Force as a Major, after serving as an armament officer with the 65th Bombardment Squadron at Davis-Monthan AFB, Arizona.

Major Jensen passed away at the Scott AFB Hospital on March 25, 1988, aged 91.  He was buried at Shiloh Cemetery in Willow Hill, Illinois.  Always an avid collector of balloon and airship-related items, Jensen’s extensive LTA scrapbook was donated by his family to the 375th Aeromedical Airlift Wing History Office, where it was digitally imaged by the 375th Communications Squadron and preserved on 105 compact discs.  The photographs and airship drawings from the Jensen Collection were a unique window on the entire LTA era at Scott Field and are the basis of the current Scott Field LTA Heritage Display.