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05/15/2014 by militaryphonies
Post commander’s life as a POWIN SHORT: Joe McGloflin was imprisoned in Vietnam for nearly three months.
If you attended Cabot High School in the past 25 years, you may remember seeing custodian Joe McGloflin maintaining the athletic facilities.
What you may not realize is that he was a prisoner of war for nearly three months during the Vietnam War before escaping. McGloflin is a decorated Vietnam veteran, who was awarded two Silver Stars, two Bronze Stars and four Purple Hearts.
These days you can find McGloflin in the mornings at the American Legion Post 71 of Cabot inside the mini-mall on North First Street in downtown.
McGloflin, the post commander, has been a Legionnaire for 22 years. He is a lifetime member and dedicated to the Legion.
“It is a way for me to still serve God and country, and bring to light benefits for our troops serving overseas in Iraq and Afghanistan,” he said.
“Every time I see a serviceman, I shake his hand and thank him for his service to our country,” McGloflin said.
McGloflin was a UH-1H “Huey” helicopter crew chief in the Army’s First Calvary Division, Seventh Regiment from 1969 to 1973. He served three tours in Vietnam and was stationed at Nha Trang. He had 1,500 hours flying.
“I chose to be a crew chief. I qualified to be in the maintenance division but I wanted to be in the air,” McGloflin said.
The helicopter crew had a pilot, co-pilot, crew chief and door gunner. They flew from south of Hanoi to the tip of Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia. As a crew chief, McGloflin checked out the surroundings in the air looking for enemy movements and camps on the ground.
They also delivered troops to landing zones. In Vietnam he was presented with the Bronze and Silver Stars for heroism. He and his crew saved lives and guided other artillery units in on enemy sites.
“Most of the time, we were under fire,” McGloflin said.
He was wounded multiple times from enemy fire. Once he was hit in the side and the other times he was hit in the leg. McGloflin had a choice of coming home or staying; he stayed.
“Guess I liked combat,” he said.
Seven times McGloflin was on a helicopter that was shot down.
“Most of the time we were picked up, except for the last time,” he said.
While flying a night mission in 1972 the crew’s helicopter came under fire. The pilot and co-pilot, close friends of McGloflin, were shot and killed. The helicopter crashed down near the Vietnam and Cambodia border. McGloflin and the door gunner survived the crash but were surrounded by North Vietnamese soldiers. They were blindfolded and their hands bound behind them.
McGloflin was a prisoner of war for 89 days at a camp near the Cambodian border. He recalled being put into a pen made of bamboo fencing with gaps large enough to stick a hand through. It was hot and they lost weight. The Vietnamese made fun of the POWs, poking them with sticks. “It was very hard being a POW. The treatment was nothing like I’ve been through before,” he said.
McGloflin said over time they became friends with one of the prison guards and one day the guard left the gate unlocked. McGloflin and 15 other POWs made their escape to freedom. McGloflin, still in his flight suit, made the one-day walk to Cambodia.
“The Cambodians treated us like royalty. They took us in, fed us and took care of all our needs physically. We got to take a shower. The Cambodian people helped us get to Thailand,” he said. Crossing Cambodia into Thailand took two days riding in an ox-drawn cart.
From there, they made it to a U.S. Army/Air Force base in Bangkok. They were able to eat, gaining back their weight and strength.
McGloflin kept in touch with many of the former POWs over the years.
“We corresponded for several years. Many are now in bad health or deceased. The door gunner I had, a month ago his wife called me and said he’d committed suicide,” McGloflin said.
McGloflin has no lingering physical effects from his injuries, however he was diagnosed with post traumatic stress disorder.
He has flashbacks about combat. He copes with the memories by talking about it and discussing what happened to help him heal. McGloflin is thinking about writing down his experiences to have a record for his nine grandchildren.
After his POW experience, McGloflin served in the military three more years, spending one year in Okinawa, Japan, and two years stateside. He went into the Reserves in 1976.
He was stationed at Camp Robinson, where he maintained supplies and handed out equipment to the units. He served 14 years in the Army, both in active and reserve duty.
McGloflin was born in Searcy into a military family. His father Sam, a master sergeant, had a 30-year career in the Army. He was a engineer who served in the Second War World, the Korean War and the Vietnam War.
McGloflin graduated high school in Stuttgart, Germany, and volunteered for the service three months later.
McGloflin wanted to be an Air Force fighter pilot but bad knees from playing sports kept him from being accepted. He went into the Army, and eight months later he was in Vietnam.
His brother Charles, had a 20- year career in the Air Forceand also served in the Vietnam War. McGloflin moved to Cabot in 1976 because his parents lived there. He went back to school, attending ASU-Beebe, then transferred to Arkansas State in Jonesboro, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in political science.
He then earned a master’s degree in political science from the University of Arkansas through correspondence classes.
McGloflin served on the Cabot City Council for two years from 1983 to 1985. He was a former Lonoke County Democratic Party chairman.
“Then, I saw the light and switched parties,” he said.
He later was a Lonoke County Republican Party vice chairman.
McGloflin and his wife Linda have been married for more than 20 years. They have three adult children: Trish Staley, Joe McGloflin III and Lisa Felling.
McGloflin retired in 2009 after a 25-year custodial career working for the Cabot School District. “Our school system is the best in the state. We have a wonderful superintendent, support staff and facility,” he said.
“A lot of kids would ask for advice and ask about the military. I would always talk up all branches of the military,” he said.
He’s heard from several former students who have been deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan. McGloflin remembers how other Vietnam veterans were treated when they came back to the U.S. The Legion works to change the perception of Vietnam veterans.
“We did not lose the war. The politicians lost it,” McGloflin said.
“Nobody in the media actually portrays the Vietnam War the way it actually happened. When we did come home, we were spit on. We were called baby killers and some even urinated on us,” he said.
“That is why I am glad we had the Welcome Home Vietnam Veterans parade on May 8, because we never got that the first time,” McGloflin said.
McGloflin plans on putting his medals in a glass case for display in the Museum of American History at Cabot for all to see.
“If I had to go do it all over again, I’d still do it. I love God and county. I still get chill bumps when I hear the national anthem play,” McGloflin said.
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