SIJAN, LANCE PETER

Name: Lance Peter Sijan
Rank/Branch: Captain/USAF
Unit:

480th Tactical Fighter Squadron 366th Tactical Fighter Wing
 DaNang Airbase, South Vietnam  

Date of Birth: 13 April 1942
Home of Record: Milwaukee, WI
Date of Loss: 09 November 1967
Country of Loss: Laos
Loss Coordinates: 171500N 1060800E (XE215072)
Click coordinates to view maps  

Status in 1973: Missing in Action
Category: 2
Aircraft/Vehicle/Ground: F4C "Phantom II"
Other Personnel In Incident: John W. Armstrong (missing)

REMARKS:

SYNOPSIS: The McDonnell F4 Phantom used by Air Force, Marine and Navy air wings served a multitude of functions including fighter/bomber, interceptor, photo/electronic surveillance, and reconnaissance. The two man aircraft was extremely fast (Mach 2) and had a long range, 900 - 2300 miles depending on stores and mission type. The F4 was also extremely maneuverable and handled well at low and high altitudes. It was selected for a number of state-of-the-art electronics conversions, which improved radar intercept and computer bombing capabilities enormously. Most pilots considered it one of the "hottest" planes around.

Then Lt. Col. John W. Armstrong was the Commander of the 480th Tactical Fighter Squadron based at DaNang Airbase, South Vietnam. On 9 November 1967, Lt. Col. Armstrong, pilot; and Capt. Lance P. Sijan, co-pilot; comprised the crew of an F4C, call sign "AWOL 01," that departed their base as the lead aircraft in a flight of two. They were on a Forward Air Control (FAC)/strike mission against enemy targets along a portion of the infamous Ho Chi Minh Trail located in extremely rugged jungle covered mountains approximately 35 miles southwest of Dong Hoi, North Vietnam; 3 miles northwest of Ban Loboy and 5 miles southwest of the Lao/North Vietnamese border, Khammouan Province, Laos.

This area of eastern Laos was considered a major artery of the infamous Ho Chi Minh Trail. When North Vietnam began to increase its military strength in South Vietnam, NVA and Viet Cong troops again intruded on neutral Laos for sanctuary, as the Viet Minh had done during the war with the French some years before. This border road was used by the Communists to transport weapons, supplies and troops from North Vietnam into South Vietnam, and was frequently no more than a path cut through the jungle covered mountains. US forces used all assets available to them to stop this flow of men and supplies from moving south into the war zone.

At 2045 hours, on the second pass over the target, the aircraft was hit by hostile fire, was seen to burst into flames and began to climb to approximately 10,000 feet, then rapidly descend and crash into the dense jungle below. No parachutes were seen in the darkness and no emergency beepers heard. Search and rescue (SAR) efforts were immediately initiated and voice contact was established with Lance Sijan almost immediately. No contact could be established with Lt. Col. Armstrong. Because of heavy enemy activity around the crash site, SAR personnel were unable to reach Capt. Sijan and were unable to locate any sign of Lt. Col. Armstrong. At the time formal search efforts were terminated, both John Armstrong and Lance Sijan were listed Missing in Action.

Lance Sijan was badly injured in his low-level bailout from the damaged jet. He suffered a scull fracture, a mangled right hand with three fingers bent backward to the wrist and a compound fracture of his left leg with the bone protruding through the lacerated skin. Over the next days, multiple rescue attempts were made, but because Sijan had lost his emergency kit, he was unable to signal his exact position. At one point, a HH-3E rescue helicopter, call sign "Jolly Green 15", hovered for 33 minutes over the dense foliage below searching for any movement or sign of Sijan. Enemy bullets began piercing the fuselage, then under a withering hail of fire; they were forced to retreat. Finally, when no further contact could be established with Sijan, additional rescue efforts ceased,

For 45 days Lance Sijan, who was desperately in need of food, water and medical treatment, managed to evade capture as he painfully dragged himself on his back along the ground through the savage terrain. He was found by North Vietnamese troops on Christmas Day lying unconscious next to the road that had been their target and only 3 miles from where he had been shot down.

Not long after being captured, and in spite of being horribly emaciated, Sijan's incredible will to escape enabled him to gain his freedom for a few hours by knocking out a guard with a well placed karate chop to the neck and pulling himself back into the jungle. During the interrogation that followed his recapture, he was severely tortured, but divulged no military information.

The Vietnamese then took him to a holding point in the city of Vinh where he was held with Guy Gruter and Bob Craner, who comprised the aircrew of an Air Force F-100 crew shot down 20 December 1967, in bamboo cells. Later the 3 men were transported by truck to Hanoi and imprisoned together in a cell in "Little Vegas." Bob Craner described the cell condition this way: "It was cold and dank, with open air, and there was a pool of water on the worn cement floor. It was the first time I suffered from the cold. I was chilled to the bone, always shivering and shaking. Guy and I started getting respiratory problems right away, and I couldn't imagine what it was doing to Lance. That, I think, accounts ultimately for the fact that he didn't make it." Craner said that a Vietnamese medic gave Sijan shots of yellow fluid that he thought were antibiotics, but the communists made no attempt to treat Sijan's injuries or open sores. The medic later inserted an intravenous tube into his arm, but Lance, fascinated with it in his subconscious haze, pulled it out several times.

Late one night approximately 8 days after reaching Hanoi, and two weeks after being captured, Lance Sijan succumbed to his injuries and illness. He started making strangling sounds, and his cellmates got him into a sitting position while they tried to get a guard's attention in the hope that the Vietnamese would take him to a hospital. The last time they saw Lance Sijan was when he was removed from their cell. A few days later Bob Craner was told by the camp commander that Sijan had died.

As to the fate of Lt. Col. John Armstrong, Sijan was unable to determine what happened to him due to the darkness. Much later, a Pathet Lao defector, who claimed to have been a prison camp guard, stated that in 1977 he had been guarding several Americans. According to his report, one was named "Armstrong". There are only two Armstrong's listed as MIA. There is little question that the other Armstrong died at the time of his incident. As for our government, the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) states they place no validity in this report.

Lance Sijan died in captivity on 22 January 1968. On 13 March 1974 his remains, along with the headstone used to mark his grave in North Vietnam, were returned to the United States. He was buried with full military honors in Milwaukee, Wisconsin's Arlington Cemetery.

On 4 March 1976, President Gerald Ford warded the Congressional Medal of Honor to Lance Peter Sijan for valor. On that same day three living returned POWs received the CMH. One of them, Admiral James B. Stockdale, said of Lance Sijan's sacrifice "....made him a hero to every American prisoner of war in North Vietnam. In spite of broken limbs, concussion, lack of food and drink, he did it all: Evasion, Escape, Stoic Resistance under torture. What he did was truly above and beyond the call of duty. As the story of his heroic performance spread, it inspired us who were in prison with him. It will inspire future generations of our country's combat personnel." And that inspiration helped foster resolve among the POWs during their lonely captivity.

While the fate of Lance Sijan is resolved and his family and friends have the peace of mind of knowing where their loved one now lies, for John Armstrong his fate could be quite different. He is one of nearly 600 Americans who disappeared in Laos. Many of these men were known to be alive on the ground. The Laotians admitted holding "tens of tens" of American Prisoners of War, but these men were never negotiated for either by direct negotiation between our countries or through the Paris Peace Accords which ended the War in Vietnam since Laos was not a party to that agreement.

Since the end of the Vietnam War well over 21,000 reports of American prisoners, missing and otherwise unaccounted for have been received by our government. Many of these reports document LIVE America Prisoners of War remaining captive throughout Southeast Asia TODAY.

Fighter pilots were called upon to fly in many dangerous circumstances, and they were prepared to be wounded, killed or captured. It probably never occurred to them that they could be abandoned by the country they so proudly served.
Lance P. Sijan is a 1965 graduate of the United States Air Force Academy. He was the first graduate of the academy to be awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor