COLUMBIA, S.C. – A retired U.S. Air Force fighter pilot and Vietnam prisoner of war was honored with a Missing Man flyover during his funeral at Fort Jackson National Cemetery Oct. 26.
Retired Air Force Col. Jack Van Loan received full military honors for his nearly 30 years of service, including 2,116 days spent in the North Vietnamese prison nicknamed the Hanoi Hilton.
The South Carolina Air National Guard’s 169th Fighter Wing provided the formation flyover with a four-ship of F-16 fighter jets.
“Colonel Van Loan was an example to us all,” said Col. Akshai Gandhi, commander of the 169th Fighter Wing. “As I reflect on his nearly six years as a POW, I realize just how trivial many of our so-called big problems really are. It was an honor to fly his Missing Man tribute.
Gandhi said the Swamp Fox Airmen simply asked, ‘where and when?’ after receiving word the SCANG was honoring the colonel during his funeral.
After completing F-4 Phantom II training, then-Maj. Van Loan served with the 433rd Tactical Fighter Squadron at Ubon Royal Thai Air Base, Thailand, from December 1966 until he ejected over North Vietnam and was captured May 20, 1967. He was released during Operation Homecoming March 4, 1973.
A native of Eugene, Oregon, Van Loan graduated from Oregon State University in 1954 and commissioned as a second lieutenant in the Air Force. In an Oregon State University oral history project, Van Loan described being tortured as a POW. He said his time in prison was “hours and hours of boredom interspersed with moments of sheer terror.”
Van Loan served on the staff of the 355th Tactical Fighter Wing at Davis-Monthan AFB, Arizona, from August 1973 to June 1978. His final assignments were as vice commander and then commander of the 507th Tactical Air Control Wing, and as deputy chief of staff for operations with Headquarters 9th Air Force at Shaw AFB, South Carolina, from July 1978 until his retirement Nov. 1, 1984.
After retiring, he served as president and economic development director of the Five Points Association and chairman of the St. Pat’s in Five Points festival. On Veterans Day 2016, a memorial was erected in his honor depicting his release from the prison camp in Hanoi.