Jack Van Loan wants Donald Trump to listen a little harder before he speaks.
Then, and only then, might the GOP presidential hopeful regain some of his rapidly eroding credibility, he said.
The former Vietnam War Air Force fighter pilot from Forest Acres, S.C. – who spent six years as a POW in the infamous Hanoi Hilton – is among those outraged by recent comments Trump made about U.S. Sen. John McCain’s military service.
Van Loan’s disgust runs deeper than many. Van Loan got to know McCain, whose capture and release from the same facility came within months of his own. He has remained in touch with the senator though the years.
“He’s not a good listener,” the 83-year-old said of Trump’s recent comments. “Attacking John McCain was just crazy.”
During a weekend interview, Trump – while being questioned about McCain’s military service – initially appeared to say that McCain was “no war hero,” but when pressed noted he was a war hero because he had been captured. Trump added, “I like people that weren’t captured.”
Van Loan said presidential candidates should choose their words more carefully. “I probably was more disappointed than anything else,” he said. “We had started to think that he was a viable candidate for president.”
Van Loan, the retired head of the Five Points Merchants Association who has written a book about his POW experience, was first captured in May 1967. In October of that same year, McCain, then a naval aviator, also was brought in.
McCain had ejected over Hanoi and had landed in a lake right in the middle of the city. According to reports, he suffered two broken arms and a broken leg while ejecting and nearly drowned in the lake before a mob pulled him out and then set upon him. The mob crushed his shoulder with a rifle butt and bayoneted him in his left foot and his groin.
But Van Loan said despite that abuse and more he would endure, McCain had shown “terrific courage” throughout the ordeal. “He only gave his name, rank and serial number (during repeated attempts by the captors to get information from him), despite the torture,” he said. “I know what he went through.”
Van Loan said he is not hopeful that Trump will recant his statements and the candidate has said repeatedly that he will not apologize. Even so, Van Loan said he will not write him off as a potential nominee, although he said the recent misstep has him on thin ice.
“I’m going to try to give him another look,” he said, “but you can only shoot yourself in the foot so many times.”