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Former POW pilot recounts Vietnam experience

By Pamela Jackson | Marine Corps Logistics Base Albany | September 14, 2016


A sold-out crowd of Marines, Sailors, retirees and civilian-Marines gathered before daylight at the Town and Country Grand Ballroom aboard Marine Corps Logistics Base Albany for the annual Prisoners of War/Missing in Action Recognition Breakfast, Sept. 9. 


Those in attendance assembled to honor former POWs and to remember those still missing in action.  The guest of honor and keynote speaker was retired Army Col. Quin Herlik, a pilot and former POW who was shot down in Vietnam in 1969. 

“I am both honored and privileged to be here,” Herlik said.  “I find it disconcerting, at best, to be introduced as a distinguished guest and ex-POW.  None of us feel distinguished, nor do we feel entitled to any accolades as a result of our imprisonment.  We really didn’t do anything that any professional serviceman or woman wouldn’t do under the same circumstances.

“We were fighting for our country, our democratic way of life, our freedom and the freedom of others,” he continued.

Herlik was commanding an aviation company of 250 men, 50 of them pilots, when he was shot down Feb. 12.  He and his three comrades were on board a single-engine Otter he was piloting when his plane took a dead-center hit from a 37mm canon fire.  


“Our mission was radio intercept,” he noted. “When the Viet Cong, or the North Vietnamese would broadcast, we would intercept those signals (from the air) and send this classified information by secure FM radio back to the ground, alerting the troops. The troops would then go out and investigate it. (This is how) we were able to keep track of where these units were moving from day to day.”

As Herlik shared his story of being captured, the audience sat still, hanging onto his every word as he struggled to share parts of his story.

“I saw the elephant,” Herlik commented, referring to an old combat saying shared by soldiers who have seen action. “I was one of the lucky ones.  I was very fortunate because I was only held prisoner for a relatively short time in the middle of the Vietnam War.”

Kent Morrison, executive director, MCLB Albany, said it is always humbling to hear the stories of our former POWs and the hardships they endured.


“They are all true heroes who sacrificed so much for our great nation,” Morrison said.  “All they ask is never allow this country to forget those still missing in action and the families that wait so sadly for some word of their lost one.  It was a true honor to have Colonel Herlik speak to us and share with the group his experiences.”


One former soldier said she was affected by Herlik’s story.


Retired Army captain Delphia Cornish, who is a program and management assistant with Computer and Information Systems Division, MCLB Albany, said she’s never met a POW, so it was emotional to hear his first-hand experience of being captured. 


“His entire story was very interesting, especially when he thought one of his soldiers was dead, but he had survived and was later found in the hospital,” Cornish said.


Staff Sgt. Richard A. Bailey, family readiness officer and inventory management specialist, Weapons System Management Center, Marine Corps Logistics Command, said prisoners of war are even more respectable to me because they have survived such an experience.


“When the colonel was telling his story, I could envision everything he was saying,” Bailey said.  “The whole room was so quiet and attentive that if he stopped speaking you could almost hear the gun fire in his story.”


“Hearing the cracking of his voice as he spoke of such a tragedy more than forty years ago showed me how grateful I should be to have not been in such a situation (during) my combat experience,” he added.  “It takes a man of honor, patience and determination to survive and make it home as a (former) POW.”