Thursday, March 12, 2009

Captain Lance P. Sijan

Date & Location: Nov. 9, 1967 - Vietnam

On Nov. 9, 1967, the F-4 flown by 1st Lt. Lance P. Sijan of Milwaukee, Wisc., was hit by North Vietnamese ground fire and exploded. Although badly wounded he was able to parachute from his stricken plane.

Even with no food and very little water he managed to avoid capture for 45 days. Because of a serious compound fracture of the left leg, he was unable to walk but did manage to pull himself backward through the jungle. Even with a broken leg, a skull fracture, and a mangled right hand he was able to escape shortly after his initial capture. Upon recapture he was taken to Vinh and thrown into a bamboo cell. He was 'interrogated' repeatedly, and in spite of his captors technique of twisting his damaged right hand he refused to disclose any information but his name. When not being 'interrogated' he attempted additional escapes with the only results being beatings.

Lt Sijan was soon moved to a POW camp at Hanoi. Even in his pitiful condition, he attempted more escapes all meeting with failure. His physical condition continued to weaken without proper food or medical attention and soon he developed additional respiratory problems including pneumonia in January 1968. After many months of ill treatment, his health, but not his spirit, broke. 1st Lt. Sijan was removed from his cell during the night of 21 January 1968 and died the following day at Hoa Lo according to his Vietnamese captors.

Lt Sijan was promoted posthumously to Captain on June 13, 1968. On March 4, 1976 he was awarded posthumously the Medal of Honor which was presented to his parents by President Gerald Ford. Captain Sijan thus became the first graduate of the U.S. Air Force Academy to receive our nations highest decoration for heroism above and beyond the call of duty.

The USAF Academy named Sijan Hall, a cadet dormitory, in honor of Captain Sijan on 31 May 1976. Additionally, the USAF honors Air Force personnel who exhibit the highest example of professional and personal leadership standards with the Lance P. Sijan Award.