Hood River’s flying fighter ace Ken Jernstedt has been chosen as one of the first nine inductees into the Oregon Aviation Hall of Honor.
A special ceremony to recognize the achievements of Jernstedt and other distinguished pilots was held on Sunday afternoon at the Evergreen Aviation Museum in McMinnville. About 370 dignitaries gathered under the monolithic wings of the Spruce Goose, the world’s largest plane, for the special ceremony. Jernstedt, who is legally blind, said his guide dog, Driscoll, garnered the most attention — and more than a few nibbles of the gourmet hors d’oeuvres.
“Everyone likes my dog so some of it gets rubbed off on me — he’s the most popular one at most of the places I go,” said Jernstedt.
However, he also received plenty of accolodes as one of the first pilots to be formally recognized in Oregon for making significant contributions to aviation and aerospace. The collective accomplishments of the inductees covered all fields, including military, civilian, engineering, business, education and government. During a videotape that chronicled his career as one of the elite Flying Tigers during World War II, Jernstedt was described as a “legendary figure.” He was one of 100 volunteers recruited from the U.S. Marine Air Corps in 1941 to protect the Burma Road — a vital supply route into China — from Japanese attack. Over a six-month period, the Flying Tigers destroyed 296 enemy planes and Jernstedt is credited with shooting down more than 10 of these craft. Following his military duties, Jernstedt went on to a life of public service, taking on the role of an Oregon state representative for two years before being elected to the state Senate, where he served for 20 years. He also served as mayor of Hood River in 1959-60 and again in 1989-90.
Jernstedt kept his Oct. 26 acceptance speech on a light note, sharing a humorous story about Master of Ceremonies Gerry Frank, a long-time friend. After accepting his award from former Gov. Victor Atiyeh, Jernstedt took a moment to personally thank his wife Gen for her strong support, a remark that drew applause from the audience.
“I still can’t quite get over the honor of it, they just went all out and I’m very pleased to be recognized with this group of fine people,” said Jernstedt, who personally knew all but one of his celebrated peers, several of whom are now deceased.
Jernstedt’s name will be listed on a memorial wall, along with that of Colonel Rex T. Barber, Major General Marion Carl, Major General Gordon L. Doolittle, Second Lieutenant David R. Kingsley, General Merrill A. “Tony” McPeak, Melvin Jack Murdock, John G. “Tex” Rankin, and Jack G. Real.