Five Points on Friday celebrated Veterans Day with a tribute to a veteran and war hero who has become known as “the unofficial father of Five Points,” Col. Jack Van Loan.
A statue of Col. Van Loan was unveiled in the district’s new Centennial Plaza, along with an art project commemorating the nearly six years he spent as a prisoner of war in North Vietnam after being shot down during his 74th combat mission as a pilot.
Van Loan was released in 1973 and later stationed at Shaw Air Force Base in Sumter, and later retired from the Air Force and moved to Columbia, where he started a water business which he moved into Five Points in 1992.
He went on to serve as president and economic development director of the Five Points Association and chairman of the St. Pat’s Festival. Under his leadership, the Five Points fountain was built and funding was secured for a streetscaping project credited with helping revitalize the district.
The crowd of several hundred which gathered for the unveiling ceremony Friday afternoon included U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham. U.S. Rep. Joe Wilson, S.C. Sen. John Courson, Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin, representatives from Ft. Jackson, and many military veterans including some who served alongside Van Loan.
Graham addressed Van Loan directly while speaking at the ceremony, alluding to the veteran doing his duty even in an unpopular conflict like Vietnam.
“You went,” Graham said. “You came back home with honor and dignity…. You came to South Carolina and you made us better.”
Benjamin followed Graham’s example in addressing Van Loan directly in his speech.
“We are, because of you, a stronger nation, a prouder state, a more vibrant city,” the mayor said. “We are better people because of you.”
Courson, also a veteran and a longtime friend of Van Loan, said, “When Jack calls me for anything, I stand at attention and say, ‘Aye aye sir.’”
Turning to Van Loan, Courson added “I think the word hero is thrown out too often. Jack, you’re a hero.”
Five Points Association Executive Director Amy Beth Franks said Van Loan had started as her mentor, become her friend, and is now someone she considers family. She called the tribute to him “the most important project that I could possibly be a part of in my role as executive director.”
The ceremony also included music performed by Fort Jackson’s 282nd Army Band, including a tribute to all veterans on hand, and the posting and retirement of the colors by the University of South Carolina’s Air Force ROTC Color Guard.
Van Loan spoke at the ceremony, thanking his wife, his fellow veterans, and those who have worked alongside him in Five Points over the last 24 years.
“It’s very hard to express the gratitude I have to God for getting me this far,” he said. “I can’t say thank you enough.”
The completion of the Centennial Plaza is the culmination of Five Points’ Centennial Year. In the coming weeks, a 6-foot rotating granite kugel will be added to the plaza.
The kugel will weigh over 30,000 pounds, making it the largest in South Carolina.
More information on the plaza and the centennial is available at the Five Points website.