LAKESHORE REGIONAL NEWS: Door County, Kewaunee County, Manitowoc County, and Sheboygan County

Navy jet pilot Capt. Gene Nelson served for 31 years, had 98 successful bombing missions in Vietnam

Hometown Heroes

MANITOWOC, Wis. (WFRV) Captain Gene Nelson was an attack pilot with the Navy and proudly served for 31 years. He and his friend were inspired to join after watching a movie in 1956.

“[We] saw ‘The Bridges at Toko Ri’, about flying jets off aircraft carriers in Korea,” Nelson said. “We walked out of there, and we looked at each other and at the same time we said ‘should we? Yeah!'”

They later signed up for the Naval Aviation program. Working his way up the ranks, Gene was Air Boss for two years aboard the USS Enterprise. Gene and his team had many practice missions under their belt, dropping bombs during peacetime.

However, things changed one day while out at sea.

“All of a sudden the ship made a left turn, and we’re going out to some place called Vietnam,” he said. [This isn’t] a training environment but now it’s a real environment, there’s people down there.”

Gene and his crew assisted our men on the ground in south Vietnam. They completed nearly 100 successful missions.

“We got in 98 times without a bullet hole in us, so we were blessed in that respect,” Nelson said. “My job is to kill the bad guys, and in all 98 I did kill someone down there.”

Even though he was active during the Vietnam War, he understands the advantage he had being thousands of feet above the ground as opposed to the men on the ground fighting.

“My war was so much different than their war,” Nelson said. “They were down there fighting and were seeing things I would not want to see. My war was antiseptic and detached. I could come in from this big resort at sea, fly in, put my bombs and rockets where I was supposed to, and then go back to my resort at sea.

“I didn’t have to see what my bombs and rockets and machine gun bullets were doing to human bodies down there. I didn’t have to come home with Vietnam – relive Vietnam every day of my life like some of these guys are doing.”

But he wishes he could relive his time as a Navy jet pilot. He lives by the Manitowoc Airport, but your typical flight just isn’t enough for gene

“I wanna go zoom! There ain’t no zoomin’ out there!” Gene exclaimed.

But those zoomin’ days are the ones Gene won’t ever forget.

“I’ll forever be so proud that I was a naval aviator. I was a Navy jet pilot,” Nelson said.

To nominate your Hometown Heroes, email Nate Stewart at

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