2012 Honorary Degree
Col. Ben M. Pollard
Col. Ben Pollard is a retired U.S. Air Force colonel who survived six years as a prisoner of war and went on to become Commander of the Air Force Academy Preparatory School and co-led the Academy's first class with women through their first summer training.
Col. Pollard was commissioned a 2nd Lietenant through the Air Force ROTC program at Purdue University in 1954 and went on active duty less than a year later. In 1956, he completed Undergraduate Pilot Training at Laredo AFB in Texas before going on to F-86D Sabre upgrade training.
He served as an Interceptor Weapons Instructor with the 3558th Combat Crew Training Squadron at Perrin AFB, Texas, and as a Flight Test Maintenance Officer with the 3555th Maintenance and Support Group, also at Perrin. He received an Air Force Institute of Technology assignment to return to Purdue University to complete his master's degree in mechanical engineering before going on to serve as an instructor in the aeronautics department at the Air Force Academy from 1961 to 1966.
In 1967, Col. Pollard completed F-105 Thunderchief "The Thud" Combat Crew Training and was assigned to the 13th Tactical Fighter Squadron at Korat Royal Thai AFB, Thailand. He was forced to eject over North Vietnam on May 15 of that year, and was taken as a prisoner of war. During captivity, he taught engineering and math courses to fellow POWs under the most crude and difficult circumstances. After spending six years as a POW, he was released during Operation Homecoming on March 4, 1973.
He was awarded the Silver Star by the president of the United States, "for gallantry in connection with military operations against an opposing armed force," related to the mission during which he was captured. He also received a second Silver Star for meritorious service as a POW as well as two Purple Heart medals.
After repatriation, Col. Pollard was briefly hospitalized to recover from his injuries at Sheppard AFB, Texas, and then returned to the Air Force Academy as an associate professor in August 1973, later becoming the Deputy Commander For Military Instruction and later the Commander of the Air Force Academy Preparatory School.
During this time, he and another colonel led the first Academy class containing women through their first ever summer training - for him, a truly challenging, wonderful experience.
Following retirement from the Air Force in 1981, he became a vice president of StarNet, a newly formed long-distance phone company.
In addition to his military honors, Col. Pollard has received the 1974 American Society for Engineering Education's AIAA Educational Achievement Award (Aerospace Division), the 1991 Outstanding Mechanical Engineer award from Purdue, and was designated an "Old Master" at Purdue in 1979, along with fellow alumnus Orville Redenbacher. The honor recognizes exceptional individuals who have made significant contributions in their professional fields.