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…