Jack Van Loan unloads on Colin Kaepernick

Jack Van Loan, campaigning for his friend John McCain back in 2007.

Jack Van Loan, campaigning for his friend John McCain back in 2007.

Just a few minutes ago, I got a call out of the blue from a man I’m honored to call my friend, Jack Van Loan.

A lot of you know Jack as the long-time power broker of Five Points, who for many years ran the St. Patrick’s Day party there. Most of you who know him also know about the almost six years (“I was in for 70 months. Seven-zero — seventy months.”) that he spent as a prisoner of the North Vietnamese in the “Hanoi Hilton” with his good friend John McCain and other fellow heroes.

An excerpt from my column a number of years ago about his experience:

ON MAY 20, 1967, Air Force pilot Jack Van Loan was shot down over North Vietnam. His parachute carried him to Earth well enough, but he landed all wrong.
“I hit the ground, and I slid, and I hit a tree,” he said. This provided an opportunity for his captors at the prison known as the “Hanoi Hilton.”
“My knee was kind of screwed up and they … any time they found you with some problems, then they would, they would bear down on the problems,” he said. “I mean, they worked on my knee pretty good … and, you know, just torturing me.”…

Again, that experience lasted 70 months.

Tonight, Jack called me to ask me if I knew anyone with the San Francisco 49ers organization or anyone at all who could get a message to quarterback Colin Kaepernick.

Well, I couldn’t help him there because you know me and football. I didn’t even know who Colin Kaepernick was — although when I looked him up, I remembered the controversy from last year.

I told him the best I could do for the moment was share his message on my blog.

His message is this: That he did not spend six years in that hell of a North Vietnamese prison so “some long-haired punk” could show his disdain for the flag of the United States of America. And if Kaepernick can’t bring himself to show basic respect to the country for which it stands, he should leave it.

Jack further promised “that there is no way I will spend one second watching” any game that Kaepernick plays in.

That shouldn’t be a hard promise to keep in the near future, since Kaepernick doesn’t have a team at the moment — some say because the quality of his play had declined; others say it’s the controversy.

But if he does play again, Jack’s going to be boycotting whatever team picks him up.

That probably won’t make Kaepernick lose sleep at night. The guy has other problems.

As for why Kaepernick did what he did… I’m not interested in getting into that in this post. I’m just here to testify to the pain and dismay those actions engendered in my friend Jack.

Yeah, I know all the arguments about how that flag stands for the right of people like Kaepernick to express their views. I’ve used those arguments myself. I’m just sharing how Col. Van Loan feels about that expression, and telling you that he’s earned the right to feel that way — he’s got rights, too, and has done a great deal to earn them.

And I’ll mention one more thing I discovered in trying to remind myself who Kaepernick was. He, a guy who spent six years playing professional football, has an extensive Wikipedia page devoted to him. Jack Van Loan spent six years of torment in the Hanoi Hilton, and has no Wikipedia page. There’s something wrong with that equation…

41 thoughts on “Jack Van Loan unloads on Colin Kaepernick

  1. Doug Ross

    There’s a lot I’d like to say in response but I’ll leave it alone. I hope if I live to 85 that I don’t have that level of anger over trivial things.

    1. Lynn Teague

      Someone get my smelling salts, I’m agreeing with Doug, The eclipse wasn’t the only rare event for South Carolina this week.

        1. Doug Ross

          As the philosopher Don Henley put it:

          “You better put it all behind you
          ‘Cause life goes on
          You keep carryin’ that anger
          It’ll eat you up inside”

        2. Brad Warthen Post author

          Jack doesn’t carry around anger. In fact, when he first called me and I said, “Jack! How are you?” his reply was something like, “Just great! If I was doing any better I couldn’t stand it!”

          But when a guy goes out of his way on national television to insult the flag of the nation he suffered for, it has to be like a kick in the gut.

          In other words, Jack is fine until someone goes out of his way to make him not fine. Which is what Kaepernick did, whether he thinks that’s what he did or not….

          1. Doug Ross

            Would he fall into the expected demographic of Fox News watcher? I’d really be interested in whether he voted for Hillary or Trump.

              1. Claus2

                I’m curious, how did Jack look physically as compared to John McCain on their release day from the Hanoi Hilton. Because McCain looked pretty damn good and healthy compared to others who walked out like they had been in a concentration camp.

                  1. Brad Warthen Post author

                    I’m just basing this on general knowledge of history, but are you sure that second picture isn’t of guys who were prisoners of the Japanese several decades earlier? I’m fairly sure that’s what we’re looking at…

                    1. Brad Warthen Post author

                      I’ve tried searching by that image itself, and my search has been inconclusive. I have found places where that photo was used in a context of Vietnam POW, but what I’ve seen hasn’t been that persuasive.

                      Anyway, here’s a picture of a group of POWs being released by North Vietnam.

                      Here’s a picture of guys who survived being prisoners of Japan. See why I reacted as I did?

                1. Barry

                  One Post

                  As someone who broke my elbow in October 2016, had reconstructive surgery 5 days later, and is still to this day recovering from the worst pain and experience of my entire life ( the same injury John McCain had except he had both elbows broken with no orthopeaedic specialist to assist in recovery like I had), I can promise you there is no “looking pretty good” involved in any of it. My elbow and therefore my entire arm, like McCain’s, will never be right.

              1. Claus2

                If a man lays on the ground during a formation, does he stand out? Did he purposely put himself in that situation? If so, then “out of his way” fits. It’s all about “look at me”.

                1. Brad Warthen Post author

                  But I’ll say in their defense, if I were forced to cover a football game (something that occasionally happened very early in my career), I’d have my eyes peeled for something more interesting, too…

  2. Brad Warthen Post author

    I didn’t ask Jack why he was bringing this up NOW. I assumed during the conversation that something had just happened. While he was talking, I was thinking, “Has Monday night football started already? Did this happen at a game Sunday?” I was thinking, “Football always starts way before I want it to; has that just happened again?” But I held back from asking, not wanting to change the subject to how phenomenally ignorant of football a guy can be?

    And after I got off the phone and looked it up and realized it was the incident I’d vaguely remembered from last year, I didn’t want to call Jack back and question him about “Why now?” I’m guessing he was watching ESPN or something, and there was one of those shows with the guys yelling at each other, and it was about this…

    1. Doug Ross

      There are more and more players this season who are sitting for the anthem. Marshawn Lynch is probably the most visible right now. To me, it’s a relatively harmless (and probably useless) way for a person to express his displeasure with the events of the day. The best course would be to ignore them if you disagree rather than try to vilify them.

      1. Brad Warthen Post author

        It’s outrageous. It’s completely uncivilized behavior. I don’t care what your issue is, you don’t do something that amounts to a general “F___ You!” to the entire nation over that one issue.

        This is where my essential, bedrock conservatism comes into play. Real conservatism, not the nihilistic garbage that so many loudly proclaim these days.

        I don’t ask much from people in the way of acting civilized. I just expect them not to go out of their way to do things that amount to a slap in the face to their fellow citizens, things that flip off our essential institutions.

        I don’t ask you to go to my church. But I expect some respect toward that fundamental institution. If I were an atheist, I’d be a devout one. When someone said a prayer in my presence, I’d respectfully bow my head and be silent until they were done. Because to do otherwise would be disrespectful to the person and his beliefs. It’s like when I was in Thailand, and this lady who had hosted and fed us for two days in her home invited us to kneel beside her at the little Buddhist altar in her home to pray for our safety on the rest of our journey (or so my daughter explained, this being all in Thai), I gladly knelt and bowed my head. If I’d known the Thai for “amen,” I’d have thrown one in.

        I feel the same way about other institutions of our civilization (and whatever civilization I’m visiting) — the government, our courts, public schools, the Constitution, the military, the national anthem, the flag, and yes, motherhood, the girl next door and apple pie (even though I am allergic to apple pie). And I expect a modicum of respect for these things from my fellow citizens. They don’t have to exert themselves; they just need to NOT go out of their way to insult these things.

        And when they do, forgive me if I don’t pay attention to the issue they’re trying to dramatize. If you want to advocate an issue, use your words — don’t use unfocused gestures of insult toward the whole society. That is childish, and I would add, barbaric — senselessly destructive. And I’m not going to hear you.

        Use your words.

        1. Doug Ross

          I must have missed Rosa Parks’ pamphlet: “Top Ten Reasons I Should Sit In The Front of the Bus”.

          1. Brad Warthen Post author

            Which of course is a complete non sequitur.

            What she did was DIRECTLY address the injustice through her actions — just as those who did sit-ins at Woolworth’s.

            Surely you see the difference between that and flipping off the whole country in order to make an unrelated point. And if you think it IS relevant and proportional to the point — if you think the whole country is rotten (which is what disrespecting the flag says) because on rare occasions (proportionally) a cop engages in violence that may or may not be based in his own personal racial attitudes — then you’re not capable of thinking rationally.

            What Rosa Parks did was moderate, measured, proportional and to the point. She’d had enough of being disrespected, so she didn’t move.

            Night and day…

            1. Doug Ross

              Oh I see the difference… but it is action that drives change more than words do.

              I don’t think sitting during the anthem does anything but I also don’t get my panties in a twist over it either. I think those who do it think it will drive a conversation, influence others to take action. Same as burning draft cards (or bras). It’s a starting point.

              1. Brad Warthen Post author

                I’m also opposed to burning draft cards, and, well… I confess I’ve always been a bit confused by the bra-burning thing. Why do something that sexist pigs everywhere would applaud?…

                1. Doug Ross

                  Also consider that Kaepernick was willing to give up millions of dollars to make this stand (sit). That means something.

                2. Brad Warthen Post author

                  Well, you’re supposing he’s out of work because of his politics, rather than because his performance had been slacking off.

                  I have NO informed opinion on that, but it’s my understanding that that is not a settled issue; there are arguments either way.

                  But frankly, if an athlete is at the top of his game, the NFL stands to make millions on him themselves. And it seems a bit doubtful that the league or the owners will pass up on those riches just because a player has become political poison.

                  Even though he was persona non grata just two years before, didn’t the Eagles sign Michael Vick after he got out of prison?

                3. Doug Ross

                  Well, to be frank, you don’t know what you are talking about when it comes to his football skills. He is certainly better now than the majority of second string QB’s and probably better than a couple starters. To think that there are 64 better QB’s (plus more if you include those on taxi squads and in preseason camps) is unrealistic.

                  When Miami’s QB went down with a knee injury a couple weeks ago, they went out and got Jay Cutler who had retired after last season and was ready to begin an announcing career. Miami didn’t even bring Kaepernick in for a tryout.

                  It is almost certainly because of his political stance that he is not on a team now. The owners don’t want to deal with the drama/pushback from some fans.

                  There could be some football reasons as well but it starts with “Why do we need that headache?”

                  1. Brad Warthen Post author

                    “Well, to be frank, you don’t know what you are talking about when it comes to his football skills. ”

                    Well, finally we agree on something…

                4. Doug Ross

                  Kaepernick had a passer rating of 90.7 last year compared to Cutler’s 78.1. That 90.7 is higher than all but one of Cutler’s career ratings.

                  The starting QB for Jacksonville, Blake Bortles, was at 78.8 last year.

                5. Doug Ross

                  Passer rating is a complex formula based on a number of factors: completion %, yards per attempts, interceptions, TD’s, etc. Just like ERA, it’s a decent indicator of effectiveness but not perfect.

        2. JesseS

          I’d concede that you are 100% correct on this just as soon as 100% of the people complaining about it aren’t too busy to take their hats off during the National Anthem while buying beer and hot dogs or standing in line at the urinal. Until then it doesn’t seem too sacrosanct.

  3. bud

    This is just another example of Brad getting into this extreme huff over symbolism. Brad just comes across as silly over this.

    As for the church comment I can’t respect an organization that openly advocates against birth control. That is just far too important to just sit back and pretend it’s ok to advocate such an abominable policy.

  4. Norman Burbage

    Brad did he ask you why Kaepernick was kneeling? Did you ask him why Kaepernick was kneeling? Did either of you consider how long the two of you had lived as black men in the United States?

    As Kaepernick would tell journalists that actually asked him why, his protest had nothing to do with the military. He was protesting police violence against minorities. After talking with Army vet and former Seahawks long snapper Nate Boyer, Kaepernick decided that, in order to show respect for those who have served, he would no longer sit during the anthem. Boyer suggested a new form of protest…
    “I expressed to him, maybe there’s a different way of demonstrating, where you’re showing more respect for those who laid down their lives for what that flag and anthem stand for,” Boyer said of his conversation with Kaepernick. “I suggested kneeling, because people kneel to pray; we’ll kneel in front of a fallen brother’s grave.”

    Kaepernick, and other players, have been called “unpatriotic” for kneeling during the anthem, but the idea came from a man who very clearly loves this country and has served to protect the freedoms that it provides its citizens, including the freedom to protest in a peaceful manner. ~ Steven Ruiz

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      Yes, and his decision to kneel instead of sit went a long way toward moving me to a more-or-less neutral position on the whole thing.

      Which is where I was when I posted this so long ago. And I was clear about why I was posting it:

      As for why Kaepernick did what he did… I’m not interested in getting into that in this post. I’m just here to testify to the pain and dismay those actions engendered in my friend Jack.

      Yeah, I know all the arguments about how that flag stands for the right of people like Kaepernick to express their views. I’ve used those arguments myself. I’m just sharing how Col. Van Loan feels about that expression, and telling you that he’s earned the right to feel that way — he’s got rights, too, and has done a great deal to earn them….

      Frankly, if people would just ignore football the way I do, there would be no controversy here. This advice is my free gift to all of you. You’re welcome…

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