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November 11th, 2009
Veterans Day ’09: Dentino flew scores of missions over North Vietnam

by PAT MURDOCK

A retired fighter pilot who flew more than 100 missions over North Vietnam, U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Robert L. “Bob” Dentino accumulated an impressive military record during his 27 years in the U.S. Air Force.

A native of Illinois, his military career began in February 1959, shortly after he graduated from Bradley University in Peoria, where he was a cadet in the Air Force ROTC program. One week after he received his degree from Bradley, he was commissioned into the U. S. Air Force. The very next weekend, he and Patricia were married.

His first assignment was at James Connally Air Force Base in Waco, where he enrolled in the Air Force’s undergraduate navigation school. After receiving his wings as an Air Force navigator, he started the advanced radar navigator bombardier program at Mather Air Force Base in Sacramento. California.

His next assignment was with the Strategic Air Command as a dual rated radar navigator bombardier, flying the B-47 strategic nuclear bomber.

Dentino explains that, in 1960, the B-47 was the primary strategic world wide nuclear bomber and this country’s main cold war deterrent against the Soviet Union. The mission of B-47 crews was to maintain the proficiency to fly to selected military and industrial targets in the Soviet Union with the capability of delivering nuclear strikes against these targets.

“To enhance our capability for the fastest response to accomplish this mission, we were required to spend approximately 30 percent of our lives on strategic alert, living in alert facilities away from our families,” the retired Lt. Colonel says. “Our mission was highlighted in 1963 during the Cuban blockade when Air Force Intelligence detected a buildup of Soviet missiles in Cuba and Soviet ships in route to Cuba with missiles and aircraft onboard. During this blockade when President Kennedy and Premier Khrushchev stood face to face, SAC B-47 crews were in their aircraft with engines running, ready for take-off.”

In 1964, then Capt. Dentino attend Air Force pilot training and successfully received his pilot wings and an assignment to the Tactical Air Force and the F-105 Thunderchief fighter aircraft. The F-105 was a multi-capability aircraft that could carry and deliver any type of conventional weapon in the Air Force’s arsenal, plus any of the nuclear weapons in use at the time.

His first operational assignment was to a NATO base in Germany with the primary mission to maintain the capability to deliver a nuclear strike on selected Soviet Union targets from a forward location. In this mission, the F-I05 pilots spent a considerable portion of their lives on alert and only minutes from take-off.

In January 1967, the mission in Germany was overcome by the Vietnam War in South East Asia, and Capt. Dentino was sent to Korat Air Base in Thailand to fly missions in North Vietnam. The F-I05 mission was to fly 100 combat missions over North Vietnam against targets that were highly defended by the enemy. The loss rate for F-105 pilots in completing their 100 mission goal was approximately 40 percent, but Capt. Dentino successfully completed his and was re-assigned to Craig Air Force Base in Alabama as a T-38 aircraft instructor pilot.

Because of the continuing demand for pilots in Southeast Asia, Capt. Dentino’s goal was
to train pilots with the capability to meet the demands of combat flying. Because of his
experience there, he was also tasked to teach the pilot trainees in the use of the electronic equipment used in Southeast Asia.

Later, he had assignments at Air Training Command Headquarters where be assisted in the development of flight training curricula, in Saudi Arabia where he served as adviser at the King Faisel Air Force Academy and to the Commander in Chief of the Pacific Command to plan, coordinate and evaluate military operations in the Pacific area, and then to other command level Air Force staff positions.

For his efforts as a triple-rated Air Force officer, Lt. Col. Dentino was awarded three Distinguished Flying Crosses, 16 Air Medals, the Presidential Unit Citation, the Air Force Outstanding Unit award with Valor device, the Republic of Vietnam Gallantry Cross with Device and the Republic of Vietnam Campaign Medal. He also received the Defense Meritorious Service Medal, the Meritorious Service Medal with two clusters and the Air Force Commendation Medal with one cluster.

He was honorably discharged from the U.S. Air Force in June, 1986 after 27 years of service to his country.

The Dentinos have lived in the Central Texas area for more than 25 years – 14 in Austin and 13 in San Marcos where he is active in the First Methodist Church Choir and the Hill Country Retired Officers Association.

Although back problems have squelched Dentino’s racquet ball games with old friend Wallace Dockall, he says one of these days they may be able to play again.

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