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POW shares experience with pilot

POW Landon talks to pilots.

POW Don Logan talks to pilots at Holloman.

HOLLOMAN AIR FORCE BASE, N.M. -- Everyone's eyes were glued to him, leaning comfortably against the lectern chatting casually about his experiences. He wasn't a fiery, motivational speaker, but the 50 members of Team Holloman, most of them pilots, hung on his every word. It wasn't the way he said what he said that kept their attention, rather the story he told. It was a story generally familiar to most of them, but here was a man who had experienced it standing right before them, telling it like it was 30 years ago when the F-4 Phantom he was in was shot down over North Vietnam.

Mr. Don Logan is a member of an elite group of individuals. He has ejected from a jet aircraft in combat, been captured and held prisoner by the enemy. When he found he was coming to Holloman to work on a picture book on Air Force Weapons Schools, he jumped at the chance to share his prisoner of war experience.

"For me, it's good to share the knowledge of the past and maybe impart some of what I learned to the pilots today," said Mr. Logan at the Holloman Officers Club.

The former F-4 Weapon System Officer was flying his 133rd combat mission in a sixteen-ship formation of Phantoms on July 5, 1972. He had a late night at the air base club the night before, thinking he would be off that day, however, when another Wizzo was unable to fly the mission, Mr. Logan took his place. It was one of those fateful moments that turn someone's life around.

The North Vietnamese knew the American's were coming and vectored two MiG-21s in behind the 16 smoking F-4s. Mr. Logan said the Vietnamese pilots were good. They came up so fast and close they were not detected by the U.S. pilots.

"The F-4 has about as good of rear visability as an F-117. They pulled up so close we really couldn't clear for our wingman," Mr. Logan told his audience. "They fired visually so we had no warning. They fired two ATOLs each. We took one up the tail pipe and 25 seconds later the number two ship was hit. I felt a bump. We were going 480 knots when we punched out about 20 seconds later, 4,000 feet from the ground."

Rather than landing in an open field where he could see North Vietnamese gathering, Logan steered his parachute into a stand of trees. He crashed through the limbs and branches separating his shoulder and getting many scratches and bruises. Despite his attempt to hide in the brush, the North Vietnamese militia found him in 20 minutes.

"They picked me up at about 9:30 in the morning and walked me all day until sundown. We stayed overnight at a village and then walked another three hours the next day until I was picked up by North Vietnamese regulars in a truck."

Mr. Logan said all prisoners of that time were taken to the infamous Hanoi Hilton for processing. That's where he received his first interrogations at the hands of the North Vietnamese. Mr. Logan believes because he was only a first lieutenant the North Vietnamese interrogators did not believe him to be of much value. Since he had what he called, "politically correct" injuries and he was junior in rank, he was transferred to the showcase POW facility in Hanoi known as The Zoo. The North Vietnamese frequently paraded international news media through The Zoo for propaganda purposes.

"Had I been shot down a week earlier I could have met Jane Fonda," Mr. Logan recalled. "They put me in a good camp. The North Vietnamese always had a purpose for what they did."

In the crowd listening intently to Mr. Logan was a young lieutenant, new to the Air Force and awaiting pilot training. Mr. Logan had made a definite impression on the young man.

"It gives you a whole new perspective on flying and the risks involved," said 2nd Lt. Ryall Myer, 49th Operations Support Squadron. "Knowing other's experiences can help you prepare for facing those types of challenges. It's important to get (veteran's) perspective so you'll know what they've done to protect our freedom."

When the United States and North Vietnam finally negotiated a peace treaty, Mr. Logan was on the last C-141 flying out of Hanoi for Clark Air Base in the Philippines. It was about nine months from the day he was captured and he considered himself lucky.

"I always had a fatalistic, positive attitude," the former POW said. "When I was shot down, I said to myself, 'Hey, if I spend less than a year in Hanoi I'll look at it as another remote tour.' I got out in nine months, so it didn't bother me. Had I stayed longer, on the 13th month I don't know what I would have done.