Dakota Datebook

Loren Torkelson, POW

Monday, December 20, 2004

First Lieutenant Loren Harvey Torkelson was from Crosby and was a month shy of his 26th birthday when his plane was shot down over North Vietnam. He was in his second tour of duty as an Air Force F4 Phantom pilot with the 389th Tactical Fighter Squadron when it happened. It wasn’t until this day in 1990 that his missing co-pilot finally came home from the war.

Torkelson departed Da Nang Airbase on a strike mission over North Vietnam on April 29, 1967. First Lt. George J. Pollin, from New Jersey, was his co-pilot; they were escorting F105 bombers that were to strike the Hanoi Bridge. Their flight path took them near a MIG fighter base and some SAM missile sites. They were fired on by both and took a hit in the rear of the plane as they were nearing the Red River in Ha Tay Province. Eyewitnesses said the plane rolled over, crashed, and exploded. The crew of the lead aircraft saw one partially opened parachute.
Torkelson ejected and was captured by the North Vietnamese and imprisoned in the infamous “Hanoi Hilton.” That same year – on the 4th of July – an East German film company conducted interviews with imprisoned pilots for an anti-American propaganda film titled “Pilots in Pajamas.” Among the pilots interviewed was Torkelson, who told the interviewer that he had flown 120 missions and had been downed by a Vietnamese pilot flying a Soviet MIG17.

Torkelson also said he was a protestant, had a bachelors degree from the University of North Dakota, and was 26. He had gotten married on the 4th of January that year and left for Vietnam nine or ten days after the wedding.

The interviewer enticed Torkelson to talk by telling him, “If you look in this camera, there is a real chance your wife will see these pictures, we’ll take care of that.”

Torkelson took the opportunity. “I’d just like to say that I’m all right now,” he said, “very well taken care of, and I hope that you don’t worry too much about me. I think that when the war is over the Vietnamese people will release me and I hope that you’re doing fine and that you’ll help to comfort my mother and father and don’t worry too much. I’ll be home in the near future.”
Meanwhile, it was thought that if either man had survived the crash, it was Pollin. Co-pilots ejected before the pilots in F4s, and Pollin’s ejection seat was seen near the site of the crash.

It took Torkelson six years to make it back home; he was released in March 1973. But, Pollin was still missing. In his debriefing, Torkelson said that he hadn’t seen Pollin’s parachute and thought he had probably gone down with the plane. Shortly before their takeoff, Pollin had phoned his brother back home and told he was volunteering for a combat mission because the scheduled co-pilot was sick. He told his brother that this would just bring him that much closer to going home.

On December 20th, 1990, the U.S. announced that Vietnam had furnished some remains that were positively identified as Torkelson’s co-pilot. It was unclear whether Pollin died during or after the crash, but now, after 23 years, he was finally home.

Loren Torkelson finished out the war a highly decorated officer, receiving 2 Silver Stars, 3 flying crosses, 16 Air Medals, the Legion of Merit, the Bronze Star for Valor, the Meritorious Service Medal, and the Air Force Commendation Medal. When he got home, he went back to UND to earn a law degree. He passed away in 1995 in Lexington, KY. He was 54.

Dakota Datebook written by Merry Helm

This text and audio may not be copied without securing prior permission from Prairie Public.

Dakota Datebook is a project of Prairie Public, in partnership with the State Historical Society of North Dakota, with funding from the North Dakota Humanities Council.

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