While flying the unfriendly skies over Southeast Asia during the 1960s, Derek Detjen was part of an exclusive group.
The Evans resident, a former U.S. Air Force major, was among the first B-52 officers to successfully engage in more than 100 bombing missions in North Vietnam during the Vietnam War.
Detjen's accomplishment will be recognized Thursday during the grand opening of a new exhibit titled "100 Missions Up North" in the Modern Flight Gallery of the National Museum of the United States Air Force in Dayton, Ohio.
Reaching 100 missions often proved difficult, but never seemed impossible, said Detjen, who was an electronic warfare officer. His responsibilities included navigating and operating the aircraft's state-of-the-art defensive systems.
"Our ECMs (electronic countermeasures) were so good we just negated anyone trying to find us," the 72-year-old said. "Most of the time, they didn't even launch at us, because they couldn't get a good fix on us."
However, there were occasions when death seemed imminent.
Detjen remembered a missile once coming so close to his B-52 that it streaked between the plane's left wing and left horizontal stabilizer. On his final mission over Vietnam, Detjen said, his plane was chased by a Chinese MIG.
Sometimes, threats weren't from the enemy.
The most harrowing situation Detjen said he faced was when a bomb got stuck in the bomb bay doors of the aircraft and he and his crew couldn't shake it loose. They had to land the plane with the bomb still attached.
"The instant we touched down the bomb broke loose," he said. "We ran over it with the aft landing gear. There was a tremendous crash when the aircraft jumped up in the back.
"The next thing we knew, the (rear) gunner said, two octaves higher than normal, 'Pilot, whatever you do, don't slow down.' He's sitting there watching this 1,000-pound bomb rolling down the runway behind us."
Detjen contributed his war stories, photos and flight jacket to the museum display.
The grand opening, which he plans to attend, doubles as a homecoming for Detjen.
As an aeronautical engineering student at the University of Cincinnati, Detjen worked across the runway from the museum at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base as part of a co-op course.
During his civilian employment with the Air Force, Detjen said, he flew new planes to Alaska to test their cold-weather capabilities. It was on one of those excursions that he decided to switch from civilian to military.
"I decided it was a lot more fun flying than it was drawing graphs," he said. "So I applied for Air Force flight training, got accepted and entered the Air Force in October of 1960."
He flew in 169 missions over Vietnam before becoming a flight crew evaluator and instructor.
"I basically taught World War III," he said. "Anything you could imagine that was involved in flying an aircraft in the event of a nuclear war, I was teaching."
After 22 years, Detjen retired from the Air Force. He has lived in Evans since 1992.
Having written short stories and maintained a meticulous scrapbook, Detjen said he loves to reminisce about the thrills he shared during his days on a B-52 flight crew.
"It was a 488,000-pound plane carrying 60,000 pounds of bombs and 235,000 pounds of fuel," he said. "I was in a flying gas tank with all the bombs right behind my seat. It could get exciting."
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