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


Jack Linwood Van Loan was born in Eugene, Oregon in 1931. During World War II, Van Loan's family moved to Corvallis, where his father worked as superintendent of schools. Jack graduated from Corvallis High School in 1949 and promptly enrolled at Oregon State College, motivated by his desire to attain a college degree so that he could join the United States Air Force. A member of Air Force ROTC for the duration of his college years, Van Loan completed his OSC degree in Business Administration in 1954. Directly following his graduation, Van Loan was commissioned as an Air Force officer and began his military career.

Van Loan was initially disqualified from pilot school because of an eye condition. But after later tricking a different eye test, he moved forward with his training and, upon completion, was assigned to pilot F-100 fighters. Van Loan was originally stationed at Misawa Air Base in Japan. After three years there, he was reassigned stateside as a gunnery instructor pilot, before eventually moving on to Air Command and Staff College at Maxwell Air Force Base. Van Loan performed well at the college and, once he had graduated, was moved to Davis-Monthan Air Force Base where he learned to fly F-4 jets.

In December 1966, Van Loan moved into the Southeast Asia theater of war when he was assigned to the 433rd Tactical Fighter Squadron at Ubon Royal Thai Air Force Base. His life changed dramatically when, on May 20, 1967, his aircraft was shot down in a firefight over North Vietnam, forcing him and his co-pilot to eject.

Not long after parachuting to the ground, Van Loan and his co-pilot were captured by North Vietnamese soldiers. So began Van Loan's tenure as a prisoner of war at the "Hanoi Hilton," a period during which Van Loan was routinely tortured and that he has described as "hours and hours of boredom interspersed with moments of sheer terror."

Jack Van Loan was a prisoner of war for 2,116 days, or nearly six years. On March 4, 1973, he and several fellow prisoners were released as part of Operation Homecoming. After a period of hospitalization, Van Loan resumed his military career as a Wing Commander.

Retired from the United States Air Force in 1984 with the rank of Colonel, Jack Van Loan currently resides in Columbia, South Carolina.