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Swamp Fox Airmen fly ‘Missing Man’ formation for former Vietnam POW

  • Published
  • By Capt. Stephen Hudson
  • 169th Fighter Wing Public Affairs

A retired U.S. Air Force fighter pilot and prisoner of war was honored with a Missing Man flyover during his funeral held at the Fort Jackson National Cemetery, October 26.

Retired U.S. Air Force Col. Jack Van Loan passed away in Columbia, October 14 and received full military honors during the funeral for his nearly 30 years of service, including his 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 during the funeral 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 added the Swamp Fox Airmen simply asked, ‘where and when?’ after receiving word the SCANG was honoring the late 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 captured on May 20, 1967. He was released during Operation Homecoming on 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 U.S. Air Force. In an Oregon State University oral history project, Van Loan described being tortured as a POW, and said being held prisoner was “hours and hours of boredom interspersed with moments of sheer terror.”

Col. Van Loan served on the staff of the 355th Tactical Fighter Wing at Davis-Monthan AFB, Ariz., 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 on November 1, 1984.

After retiring from the USAF, 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 honor of Col. Van Loan depicting his release from the prison camp in Hanoi, Vietnam.