Ken Jernstedt:A pilot and a gentleman

Flying Tiger Ken Jernstedt stands next to his plane during World War II. Piloting the iconic aircraft over Burma in 1941-42, he shot down more than 10 Japanese airplanes.

The Hood River community, and all of Oregon, mourns the death of Ken Jernstedt Sr., community leader and true war hero. He died Feb. 4 at age 95.

Visitors to Ken and Gen Jernstedt’s home were always warmly welcomed and enjoyed stories of the aviation art and the hundreds of elephants Ken collected.

Jernstedt, former mayor and state legislator, was a devoted community servant in Oregon from the time he arrived in Hood River in 1946. This came on the heels of five years of decorated military service, including the appreciation of the Chinese government in 1943.

Jernstedt, fittingly, was one of the first nine inductees into the Oregon Aviation Hall of Honor.

It was just one of his many honors.

In 1981 the Air National Guard Base in Portland renamed its main entrance gate the “Jernstedt Gate” in his honor. Linfield named Jernstedt their “Honorary Alumnus of the Year” in 1983. In 1996 Jernstedt earned a Flying Cross for his service with the Flying Tigers and in 1997 he was inducted as a lifetime member for the Oregon Pilots Association.

You see his name on the sign at the Hood River Airport: the Ken Jernstedt Airfield was dedicated in 1998.

In his later years, the decorated flyer was well known for the way he got around on foot.

In 1979 Jernstedt began losing his sight due to glaucoma; barely two years later he lost vision in his right eye because of a detached retina. In 1996 Jernstedt was declared officially blind.

Jernstedt never let the encroaching dark slow him down. He served on the Oregon Commission for the Blind to help establish self-sufficiency programs for the blind, both young and old.

After he was declared blind Jernstedt was paired up with Driscoll, a faithful, yellow Labrador retriever guide dog.

In 2002, Jernstedt was a guest of honor in the Rose Bowl, aboard the first-ever Guide Dogs for the Blind float in the Tournament of Roses Parade.

Ken and Driscoll were familiar and beloved sight around town for years until his mobility became greatly infringed.

In 2002, Jernstedt told a reporter that the bond between man and dog had become so tight that he would not take his eyesight back if it meant he would have to give up his friend Driscoll.

Such love and loyalty was testament to the fact that pilot Ken Jernstedt’s feet were always planted firmly on the ground.

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