Cole Black Tells His Story as a POW in North Vietnam

“I was a prisoner of war of the North Vietnamese 2,428 days, 18 hours and 35 minutes (nearly 7 years) . I calculated it on a Hewlett-Packard calculator one day. ”

Before the January, 2006 dinner meeting of the Golden Gate Wing, the last time CAPT Cole Black was at the Alameda NAS terminal was in September, 1965. In that month, now decades removed, VF-211’s F-8 Crusaders had been flown in from NAS Miramar to be loaded aboard CVA-19 USS Hancock for a second combat cruise to Vietnam. The events of that cruise would severely test Cole Black in many ways.

Born November 28th, 1932, Cole grew up on a farm near Lake City, Minnesota.

He attended a rural two-room school house, with three other kids in his class. High school education came at Lincoln HS in Lake City, and Cole says that was a turning point in his life.

“I got my first chance in a gymnasium. I didn’t know what they did there, I’d gotten all my exercise on the farm loading hay bales and stuff. I look back at the kids I met there, and they got me interested in things like football, wrestling and baseball, and sometimes I look back and thank those kids, because they got me into competitive sports. And that probably saved my life up the road. If I had not been physically fit at the time, I would probably never have gotten out of my airplane when it was full of bullets and headed for the ground.”

Cole became an outstanding athlete. He was All-State in football and team captain for two years, he played baseball and wrestled. And in that last sport, he was a finalist in the 1950 state championships.

When Black graduated from Lincoln High, he had a scholarship for a Wisconsin college, but says recruiters from the Air Force, Army, Navy and Marine Corps came to campus to talk with him, and one of them stole his heart away.

“I think I liked the Navy uniform best at the time. A bunch of us joined up with the Navy.”

Black says when he and his buddies were ready to board the bus for the Great Lakes, an old boatswain’s mate told them, “You guys have joined up with a first-class outfit. You’re going to see the Navy and the world in a first class way. And, you’ ain’t never going to have to use a mule’s tail for a compass again.”

Cole began spent the first five years of his Navy career as an aviation electronics technician, before being selected for Officer Candidate School, followed by flight training. He earned his Wings of Gold in February, 1957. Then followed four years as a reconnaissance pilot in Light Photographic Squadron 62, at Cecil Field in Jacksonville, Florida and then overseas, flying an unarmed Cougar on missions during his first cruise in the Mediterranean.

Next came a stint at Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California, where he earned a Bachelor’s degree in marine engineering. Good grades led to Cole’s assignment to a fighter squadron, VF-211, the Checkmates.

After more training, came carrier qualifications and then a return to the Checkmate squadron as it prepared to cruise to station in the South China Sea off Vietnam.

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