WICHITA, Kan. (KSNW) – Jeff Bowen would watch news reports of the Vietnam War as a kid. Being from a military family and having peers whose fathers served in Vietnam, Bowen decided in December 1983 to join the Navy.

“I’d always been interested in airplanes. My dad was a part owner of an airplane when I grew up. And, I grew up in Atlanta, so my whole neighborhood was nothing but Delta pilots, Eastern pilots, back then, mechanics, ticket agents, parts people, you name it.”

Stationed at Naval Air Station Fallon, Bowen would be an avionics technician in a 50-man operation maintenance division performing pre- and post-flight inspections.

“We had electricians, hydraulic men, we had airframe mechanics, we had engine mechanics, we fueled the aircraft, we did everything, you know, and so, it was just like this big team effort.”

In addition to inspections, Bowen maintained radio, radar, and navigation equipment on three Huey helicopters assigned to search and rescue missions.

“You had to be ready all the time. They were like, we were like a 99% readiness, you know, for our helicopters, so we were really good. Sometimes it was just minutes, you know, from the time you got a call and it was fueled, already pre-flighted, and it was ready to go.”

The Hueys assisted on missions within a 100 miles radius through treacherous terrain.

“We also responded to everything from aircraft reported missing. ‘Cuz lots of times where we were at, in Reno, people would come over from California try to fly over the mountain, and sometimes they didn’t make it, and we’d go find ’em.”

Bowen says the Hueys were also on standby in the event Navy pilots in training needed to be rescued.

“Fallon was a training station for Navy pilots. But the training is so intense for them, there were a lot of accidents that happened.”

In three years he was stationed at the Fallon, Bowen recalled 13 military aircraft that went down, some of those accidents proving fatal. Bowen was present at a number of the crash sites to help pick up debris.

“There’s nothing left. You’re seeing just little pieces and stuff like that, and then, they finally find the engines and something like that, they’re still pretty big, but the aircraft is pretty much obliterated.”

But not every mission ended in heartbreak. Bowen recalls the search for a young boy separated from his father during a hunting trip.

“He survived for two nights out in Nevada, and it was down in the teens at night. Kid survived in a little cave, and we found him.”

Bowen would spend four years stationed in Nevada before retiring from the Navy, ever grateful for how it helped his dream career take flight.

“Got me focused, and you know, I don’t think I would have done the same thing if I hadn’t gone in the military.”

After the Navy, Bowen would go into general aviation, where he is still working to this day.

If you want to nominate a veteran for our Veteran Salute, email KSN reporter Hannah Adamson at hannah.adamson@ksn.com.