Tucked away in a cul de sac of Norman, Oklahoma, off State Highway 9, Commander Dan Glenn sits in a chair, hands resting on the arms, and eyes wandering into the distance, finding their way back to Vietnam
Tucked away in a cul de sac of Norman, Oklahoma, off State Highway 9, Commander Dan Glenn sits in a chair, hands resting on the arms, and eyes wandering into the distance, finding their way back to Vietnam.
A Shawnee native, Glenn, 78, served as a pilot for the United States Navy in the 1960s. After receiving his degree in architecture from The University of Oklahoma in 1965, Glenn found his way into the seat of an A-4, floating above the horizon.
On his second combat cruise and his 131st mission, Glenn was shot down over north Vietnam and taken prisoner. After five separate prisons and six years of torture, Glenn and the other prisoners of war were liberated and flown back to the U.S.
“Nobody really heard about Vietnam until...we started getting involved in Vietnam more heavily.”
Glenn grew up in Shawnee and attended Washington Elementary, with the exception of his second grade year when his family moved to Kansas. Glenn attended Shawnee High School and junior high.
In high school, a navy recruiter came to Shawnee — Glenn was impressed. With a lineage of members who served in the military, including World Wars I and II, and a chance at a scholarship from the navy, it wasn’t something he wanted to turn down.
“(The scholarship) was a big help because money was tight for our family,” Glenn’s eldest sister Kay Anderson, 82, said.
Glenn and Anderson are about three years apart and grew up with two other siblings. Anderson said Glenn made good grades in school.
However, growing up, Glenn said he didn’t know too much about Vietnam, or what was known as French Indochina, other than what was taught in elementary school. That changed, though, when Glenn was in flight training in OU’s ROTC program.
“I wanted to fly an A-4 and I preferred to fly on the west coast, which meant that that's what they wanted, that's what they were looking for,” Glenn said. “So (I) always got my first choice in maybe. But I always ask for things they needed me for.”
After flight training, Glenn received his first assignment in 1964 — to go to the replacement air group in Lemoore, California. The replacement group trains pilots in the plane they’re interested in and is about four or five months of additional training, he said.
The following February, Glenn was assigned to a squadron to prepare for flying in Vietnam.
“I had friends that were shot down before I even got to my squadron,” Glenn said. “It worries you a little bit to lose your friends. But typically you just kind of put that possibility at the lower end of the priority scale.”
“Pilots in general are, I guess they kind of feel like they're invincible,” he said.
“You remember every little thing that happens.”
In 1966, Glenn was on his second cruise on the Kitty Hawk, a type of boat the Navy uses that is similar to the boats used today. He started that May and started flying missions around Vietnam in November.
On Dec. 21, 1966, Dan Glenn was shot down by Vietnam fire.
“I've been shot at enough and missed,” Glenn said. “And did they get lucky or did they get good, I don’t know.”
During a routine mission on his way to Laos, Glenn and the four plane flight he was with flew over a hole in the clouds — he said the plane flying number one flew over that spot three times in a row.
“Which you’re never really supposed to do,” Glenn said. “You try to go someplace where they don’t know where you’re going.”
Glenn said while they were in the clouds, there was no indication they were being shot at.
Until he got hit.
“The time between the time I got hit and that I’m trying to figure out how long was it for,” Glenn said. “It was a matter of seconds.”
Glenn said he heard two thumps and then a real big explosion.
“I felt it and I keyed my mic and said, ‘this is war paint two, I’ve been hit,’” he said.
However, the pilots didn’t quite understand.
“Well, I was getting pretty busy at that time and number three says, ‘war paint two’s been hit. He’s on fire and he’s out of control,’” Glenn said. “That kind of let me know that this is worse than I thought it to be.”
Glenn said he was flying parallel to the coast and as soon as he got hit, he turned toward the water, which was about five miles away, or less than a minute in flight time.
He said if he had flown over the water, he would have been picked up.
“But the plane didn’t want to fly,” Glenn said. “I could see a fire coming out of my intakes on each side of the cockpit. And the airplane is going down probably at about 60 degrees and I said to myself, ‘I can either get out now or get out late, but I think now is probably good.’”
“I pulled the handle and ejected, and then everything got real quiet,” Glenn said.
Glenn said it was a little peaceful because he was just floating and looking over the countryside, but he didn’t have a peaceful feeling.
He was thinking about what he needed to do next.
Glenn said he turned on his emergency beeper and his radio while he floated down to earth. He landed next to a stream where the grass was about three inches high. The stream was about four and a half feet wide, he said — the circumstances were not optimal.
Glenn said his memory is a little fuzzy about what all happened exactly after he landed, but he does remember being surrounded and people shouting “surrender, no die” and “no die, hands up, hands up.”
“They came up, pushed me down, started stripping things off of me,” Glenn said. “I would have, I always thought, I could take the stuff off if you could tell me and I’ll do it, but they’re cutting my flight gear off and cut all that away.”
Glenn said he was then tied up and taken to two villages. Then he was taken somewhere where the people who captured him could report that they had a prisoner.
“They had a little interrogation session, which was nothing to what I was looking forward to in the future,” Glenn said.
About six days from when he was captured, Glenn said he arrived at Hanoi Hilton, one of the most famous prisoner of war camps in Vietnam. For the first three years, he would endure great torture that would happen sporadically. He would learn the other prisoners’ form of communication, and hope that when he heard the guard jangling his keys, his cell wouldn’t be the one that opened.
“It was a hard time, it was a really hard time.”
Anderson said her family got a call a few days after Glenn was taken as a prisoner.
“I think we found out right away. I was baking Christmas cookies when they called me,” Anderson said. “It was terrifying because we didn’t know anything else.”
She said the thought of Glenn, or Danny as she calls him, getting captured was always a fear.
For the next three years, their family called and met with the Oklahoma governor, state representatives and even members of the Pentagon — they didn’t know if Glenn was dead or alive.
“The torture was always in our minds, what he might be going through,” Anderson said.
Their family found out later, through Glenn’s interviews with media, that he was tortured.
“Maybe he wanted to spare us the details, I don’t know,” Anderson said.
After three years, and Glenn was moved through a couple different rooms and prisons, the torture became less and form letters between the families and the prisoners were exchanged.
“When we got a letter, we knew he was alive at that time that he wrote it, so that was always a relief,” Anderson said.
In 1972, it was over and the prisoners were rescued. The military took them to hospital in the Philippines where the soldiers were checked out. They were also able to make calls to their families.
Glenn made a call to his then-wife who, on the phone, said she wanted a divorce.
He also called his parents to let him know he was coming home.
“The feeling there was great, particularly when we're approaching the states,” Glenn said. “I went up to the cockpit of the airplane and saw the coastline laid out in front of me and I could look at California. That's where I'd flown before, so I knew all that territory. That was a great feeling.”
After getting a divorce from his then-wife and spending time in Jacksonville, Florida, Glenn returned to Oklahoma. He later spent Christmas with his family.
“I just know we all got together,” Anderson said. “It was a house full of us. We slept every which way because we all wanted to be together for that Christmas.
“You know everything there is to know about him. He knows everything.”
Glenn spent six years as a prisoner in Vietnam. During that time, he got to know the other prisoners.
And they’re still friends today.
“We've always kept pretty close touch,” Glenn said. “We have an organization. We had an organization before we got out. We created the organization and we have had a large number of reunions from practically from the beginning.”
Glenn said the veterans meet whenever they can, and find whatever excuse they can to see each other, although there are less of them now than there were at the beginning.
Glenn said, though, that being thanked for his service doesn’t mean much.
“It's like, why isn't everybody doing something for the country,” Glenn said.