Col. Jack Van Loan, an Air Force veteran who was a prisoner of war for six years during the Vietnam War and later was a leader of the Five Points Association, died on Oct. 14. He was 87.
Van Loan was the economic development director of the Five Points Association, the shopping and nightlife district's merchants' organization, from 1992 to 2012, and helped put the annual St. Pat's in Five Points festival on an upward trajectory toward being one of Columbia's top events.
In 2016, a statue of Van Loan was unveiled in Centennial Plaza along Blossom Street in Five Points, honoring his military service and noting his time as a POW in Vietnam.
Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin mourned the death of the veteran and longtime Five Points leader.
“Colonel Van Loan was a hero in every sense of the word," the mayor told Free Times. "He served his country as not only a soldier but also as a POW in the Hanoi Hilton. Years later he continued to serve us in helping to build Five Points and City of Columbia.
"They just don’t make them like him anymore.”
Benjamin has ordered the flags at Columbia City Hall to be lowered to half-staff, and says they will likely remain at half-staff for several days.
Columbia Mayor Pro Tem also issued condolences for Van Loan on Twitter, saying that, "Columbia is better because of him."
A native of Eugene, Oregon, Van Loan graduated from Oregon State University (then Oregon State College) in 1954. He was commissioned as an officer in the Air Force after graduation, and later qualified as a fighter pilot.
He fought in the Vietnam War and, on May 20, 1967, his plane was shot down in a battle over north Vietnam. He was captured by Vietnamese soldiers and was imprisoned at the Hỏa Lò Prison, commonly referred to by U.S. soldiers as the "Hanoi Hilton."
He was held captive for nearly six years, and was released in March 1973. 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."
Free Times has reached out to the Five Points Association for a comment on Van Loan's death. Meanwhile, Matt Kennell, who leads the Main Street-focused City Center Partnership, said Van Loan was a "great American hero and Columbia legend."
State Rep. Seth Rose, whose District 72 includes Five Points, lamented the loss of the veteran and former association leader.
"Saddened to hear of the passing of my friend Colonel Jack Van Loan," Rose tweeted. "An amazing man who had once been a POW with John McCain after his fighter plane was shot down serving our country. He loved Columbia & the Five Points merchants association.
"He will never be forgotten."