Nels Tanner was born on October 20,1932, in Covington, Tennessee. He entered the Aviation Cadet Program of the U.S. Navy on July 7, 1953, was commissioned an Ensign on June 1, 1954, and was designated a Naval Aviator on November 30, 1954. His first assignment was as an AD-6 and AD-7 Skyraider pilot with VA-95 at NAS Alameda, California, from December 1954 to January 1959, followed by service on the staff of the Commander, Carrier Air Wing 15 (CVW-15) at Moffett Field, California, from February 1959 to January 1960. LT Tanner next served as an F-8 Crusader instructor pilot with VF-124 at Moffett Field and then at NAS Miramar, California, from July 1960 to April 1963, and then on the staff of CVW-15 again, from May 1963 to April 1965. His next assignment was as an F-8 and F-4 Phantom II pilot with VF-154 at NAS Miramar and deployed to Southeast Asia from May 1965 until he was forced to eject over North Vietnam and was taken as a Prisoner of War on October 9, 1966. After spending 2,339 days in captivity, CDR Tanner was released during Operation Homecoming on March 4, 1973. He was briefly hospitalized to recover from his injuries at NAS Memphis, Tennessee, and then served on the staff of the Chief of Naval Technical Training at NAS Memphis from November 1973 to 1977, with service as Assistant Chief of Staff for Recruit and Foreign Training from 1977 to 1981. His next assignment was as Commanding Officer of NAS Kingsville, Texas, from 1981 to 1983, followed by service as Commanding Officer of Fleet Tactical Support Squadron 50 (VRC-50) at NAS Cubi Point in the Philippines from 1983 to 1985. His final assignments were as Assistant Chief of Staff of Foreign Training with the Chief of Naval Education and Training at NAS Pensacola, Florida, and then as Chief of Staff of Foreign Training until his retirement from the Navy on October 1, 1985. Nels Tanner died on June 11, 2015.
His 2nd Silver Star Citation reads:
For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity while interned as a Prisoner of War in North Vietnam from 25 April to 12 May 1969. His captors, completely ignoring international agreements, subjected him to extreme mental and physical cruelties in an attempt to obtain military information and false confessions for propaganda purposes. Through his resistance to those brutalities, he contributed significantly toward the eventual abandonment of harsh treatment by the North Vietnamese, which was attracting international attention. By his determination, courage, resourcefulness, and devotion to duty, he reflected great credit upon himself and upheld the highest traditions of the Naval Service and the United States Armed Forces.