The Oregon State University Sesquicentennial Oral History Project

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Jack Van Loan Oral History Interview

Life history interview conducted by Mike Dicianna.

November 7, 2014


“A Prisoner of War for More than Two-Thousand Days”  November 7, 2014  Location: Memorial Union, Oregon State University.  Watch Video | Download Transcript (PDF)

In the interview, Van Loan discusses his upbringing in Oregon, including his parents' careers as educators and his own close friendship with Ralph Coleman, Jr. and the Coleman family. He describes his decision to attend Oregon State College before noting his advancement through Air Force ROTC, his involvement with Kappa Sigma fraternity, and various individuals at OSC that impacted him during his college years.

The remainder of the session is devoted to a detailed account of Van Loan's military career, with particular attention paid to his nearly six years as a prisoner of war in North Vietnam.

In this, Van Loan describes his having manipulated an eye examination to qualify for pilot training; his experiences learning to fly the F-4 and the F-100 fighter jets; his early assignments in Misawa, Japan, Maxwell Air Force Base and elsewhere; and his memories of Colonel Robin Olds. From there, Van Loan shares his memories of being shot down over North Vietnam, ejecting from his aircraft and being captured by North Vietnamese soldiers. He then recounts his years as a prisoner of war, noting the beatings to which he and his fellow prisoners were regularly subjected and the particular valor that certain of them - especially Jim Stockdale - showed in the face of being tortured. Van Loan also speaks to daily life in the prison camp before relaying the story of a dog that became especially important to certain residents of the camp, and that played a role in the eventual release of several American POWs.

The interview concludes with Van Loan's description of the remainder of his military career, a discussion of family life in the wake of his experience, and his assessment of Vietnam War-era leaders and their varying applications of military force.