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Local Vietnam War veteran who rescued soldiers rides helicopter again

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For the first time in years,  Jerry Jennings stroked the controls of a helicopter and launched it into the sky.

"This small helicopter sure is a bumpy ride, not like what I used to fly," Jennings said at the conclusion of the 20-minute flight.

A crowd of about 45 people came to watch Jennings, retired Air Force lieutenant colonel and decorated Vietnam war veteran, takeoff and land in a grass field near The Pointe at Cedar Park shared with  Cedar Park Public Library.

The flight was part of a celebration at The Pointe at Cedar Park, a senior living home where Jennings has lived in for around a year.

The onlookers included other senior citizens and staff at the home, as well as a group of teenagers from an Oklahoma church who came with signs that read, "thank you colonel" and, "thank you for your service colonel."

"He's the most sweet man ever," said Madison Hoover, a 14-year-old member of On the Rock Ministries in Oklahoma.

Another member, Zach Harris, 16, said of Jennings that "it's a blessing to have people like that out here."

The short helicopter trip was coordinated voluntarily by some staff members at The Pointe with Honor Flight Austin, a non-profit that aims to transport veterans to Washington D.C. to allow them to visit memorials created to honor their service.

That staff from Honor Flight Austin included Ed Piker, Steve Bush, and Nick Baker.

Before boarding the helicopter, which had dual controls, the Honor Flight pilot for the trip asked Jennings "are you going to show me how it's done?"

Shortly after, and following a shaky initial takeoff, the 21-year Air Force veteran flew off.

Jennings storied career in the armed services began with a passion kindled at a young age. In 1948, when he was 11, his father took him to a local Air Force base  where he met Robert Lee Scott Jr., a brigadier general who shot down 13 Japanese aircraft during World War II.

"He inspired me very much," Jennings said.

Jennings enlisted in the Air Force in 1952 as an airman basic, and later served in war-torn Vietnam in 1965. There he rescued crashed pilots who had been shot down and were stuck in enemy territory. 

At certain points in his varying rescues as part of the Jolly Green Rescue outfit - which earned him a Silver Star, three Distinguished Flying Crosses and the Air Medal - his helicopter was shot at by enemy soldiers.

"I called them the gang who couldn't shoot straight," he joked while discussing his rescues.

Jennings was adamant that even during such tense situations he was focused and unflinching. 

"I've never been afraid of anything in my life," he said.

After returning to the U.S. a year later, he worked at a helicopter training school and was Chief of Academics when he retired.

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