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West Orange Times & Observer Wednesday, Feb. 16, 2022 9 months ago

Obituary: Lt. Col. (Ret.) Gary Dean Jennings

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Retired Lt. Col. Jennings, 88, died Feb. 2, 2022.
by: Amy Quesinberry Community Editor

Lt. Col. (Ret.) Gary Jennings was born in Salina, Kansas, in 1933. His family lived in Roseburg, Myrtle Creek and Myrtle Point, Oregon, where he attended high school while also working in the family logging business.

Gary enlisted in the U.S. Air Force as an aircraft mechanic before being accepted as an Aviation Cadet, where he trained to fly F-86 fighters just as the Korean War came to an end. 

Transitioning into the Air Force Reserves and flying on weekends, he attended Long Beach State University and then the University of Southern California. He graduated from USC with a BS degree in accounting and later earned a master’s degree and continued his military education by graduating from Air/War College. While at USC, he met and married his wife, Virginia “Gin,” who was attending UCLA. 

During his career, Gary was checked out in 17 different military aircraft. He flew in and out of Vietnam from March of 1963 to March of 1967, bringing supplies in a C-124. In 1967, he was severely injured in a ground accident on the flight line. After being in the hospital and rehab for two years, he returned to flight status and served as an adviser to the Vietnamese Air Force’s 229th Helicopter Squadron. 

One of his most interesting flying jobs came when he returned to the U.S. from Vietnam and was assigned to fly former President Lyndon Baines Johnson and Lady Bird from their ranch throughout the Texas Hill Country during the last two years of the former president’s life. He also participated in the ill-fated Jonestown, Guyana, recovery mission and flew tactical support for the 1976 Winter Olympics. 

Retiring as a Lieutenant Colonel in 1982, Gary had amassed over 8,000 hours flying fixed wing and 2,000 hours flying helicopters.

Gary’s hobbies included rebuilding three Ford Mustangs (64 ½, 65 & 66) and doing both general contracting on new homes and remodeling older homes. Woodworking projects were his favorite, and he loved building cabinets and bookcases. Fly fishing and growing up in Oregon stuck with him, and he pursued fishing and camping wherever he was stationed. There was one hobby that outweighed them all, and that was watching his beloved USC Trojans play football. He NEVER missed watching a game and was happy to see a new direction in coaching this year. 

In his later years, he split his time between living on the Sandy River in Oregon and Lake Sawyer in Windermere, Florida. 

Gary leaves behind his wife of 67 years, Virginia; their daughter, Jaymie and her husband, Wayne Collette; and their son, Gary II and his wife, Lisa Jennings. 

His love of the outdoors, fly fishing, flying and football continues with his family. 

Donations may be made to Folds of Honor, www.foh.org/Lt-Col-Ret-Gary-Jennings, which ensures that families who have sacrificed their active-duty parent for our country receive the education and opportunities they deserve.

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