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Camden veteran pens high flying memories

Posted: September 10, 2018 4:47 p.m.
Updated: September 11, 2018 1:00 a.m.
Jim Tatum/C-I

Col. Loren Webb holds up a copy of his book in the C-I lobby.

Col. Loren Webb has been many things in his life: husband, father, soldier, and pilot to name a few.
Now he can add “author” to the list.

Webb recently published Born to Fly: The Life of Col. Loren Webb. The book, written with his friend, author Bobby Jonte, is 64 pages long, concentrates on Webb’s life and experiences as a pilot and a career military officer. While the book is autobiographical in nature, it may not be in exact order.

“I’ve got a friend who is a writer -- he’s written a number of books -- and he approached me awhile back about writing a book about my life and career,” Webb said. “When he first asked, I said, ‘no,’ but he kept on and we finally did it. It was a lot of fun to do -- but a little difficult sometimes remembering everything that happened 50 years ago.”

In the book, Webb talks about growing up in Ridgeland, S.C., on a farm. He remembers being fascinated by airplanes and aviation at a very early age and clearly remembers seeing P-51 Mustang fighters from Hunter Airfield patrolling and training in the skies over the area.

In his junior year in high school, Webb says he started “hanging around” the local airport. He would eventually start doing odd jobs, from cleaning and washing airplanes to eventually some rudimentary mechanic work. He would also get his first taste of flying, taking lessons when he could in an old Piper J-3 Cub airplane. Eventually, he would make his solo cross-country flight, flying the J-3 from Ridgeland to Hampton and back. The distance was not more than 30 miles and the flight took maybe an hour, but the experience made a great impact on him, he said.

“Man, I felt like I was in a space ship! Being alone in a plane with just a compass and a map was the most exciting thing I had ever done,” he said.  “It wasn’t that long of a flight, but I’ll never forget that feeling.”

With those lessons and especially that flight, Webb was hooked. More important, he found himself seriously thinking about his future.

“I realized that I had to do something other than driving the trash truck or washing planes at the airport if I wanted to continue in the aviation field. I set my sights on going to college.”

Webb would attend Clemson College, then a military school, graduating in 1953. He served in the Army for three years, transitioned out, and spent a couple of years in civilian life, but missed flying and realized the military would be the best path to a flying career. He went back into the Army in 1959, became an Army aviator and would proceed to spend the next 30 years flying all types of military aircraft, both fixed wing and helicopters. He would serve in a wide variety of roles and assignments, some of which would include a three-year-tour in Italy, a stint in Iran teaching Iranian pilots to fly helicopters, and a tour during the Vietnam War as the commander of a unit of six OB-1 Mohawks, fixed wing airplanes that flew SLR (side looking radar) missions. He would ultimately fly 80 missions in Vietnam.

“I had a lot of different and interesting assignments,” he said. “One of my favorites was being stationed at Langley Air Base in Virginia -- we flew so many interesting missions to so many places.”

His worst assignment, he said, was the year he spent in Iran training Iranian helicopter pilots.

“The happiest words I heard all that year was ‘we are now leaving Iranian airspace,’” he said.

Webb said he had no preference for any one aircraft; he preferred whatever was best for the mission at hand.

“If it was a short mission, you probably flew a helicopter,” he noted. “If it was a long mission, you flew a fixed wing plane. I was comfortable with either -- I just prefer using the right tool for the job at hand.”

Webb, at age 87, says he still occasionally flies with friends for fun, but does not own a plane nor does he bother to spend money on flight time.

“I don’t need to do that -- with more than 7,000 hours, I think I have plenty of flight time for one man,” he said.
Webb’s book, Born to Fly: The Life of Col, Loren Webb, is available at Books on Broad in Camden.

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