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ISSUE 155 - February 2011
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By David Rose, Contributing Editor
San Diego, California

For sure, Lance was an all American type kid; a good friend to those he grew up with, student, footballer, class president and popular with the ladies. His tenacity, dedication, faith and patriotism would later prove him to be much, much more than just a good all around American kid. Lance would become an inspiration to all who might come to know his story.

Lance won an appointment to the Air Force Academy and went on to pilot training after graduating. Then, and like many of his 1965 Academy graduating class, he soon found himself in South Viet Nam.

The F-104s which had been operating out of Da Nang throughout 1965 were pulled out in Operation Cross Switch on November 21 of that year. One of the squadrons moved in near that time was the 366th Tac Fighter Wing’s 480th squadron, commanded by Lt. Col. John Armstrong and flying the venerable F-4. Lance would be one of his pilots.

On the night of November 9, 1967, Lt. Col. John Armstrong was flying a bombing mission near the Ban Loboy ford on the Ho Chi Minh Trail in Laos. In the backseat was 25-year-old Capt. Lance Sijan, flying his 53rd combat mission.

It is suspected that a fuse on one of the bombs malfunctioned and detonated the bomb as it came off the wing. Whatever happened, the aircraft was destroyed, Col. Armstrong was killed and Lance grievously wounded. Lance survived the landing with a fractured skull (a piece of the skull was actually loose), a compound fracture of his left leg and a right hand so badly mangled it was rendered useless. With the bone of his leg protruding through the skin, and working only with his left hand, Lance was somehow able to reset the bone sufficiently to allow him to crawl away from the area of his landing, as he realized the North Viet Namese troops would be searching for the downed pilots.

Without his survival kit, with only the water available to him in the jungle, suffering not only his numerous grievous wounds but also several frustrating rescue attempts, he would never-the-less evade enemy forces an incredible 46 days.

When we flew road reccy over North Viet Nam, so extensive was the surveillance it was commonly understood that anything on the roads in daylight must be considered friendly. Fully aware of this, Lance knew he must somehow evade capture and find a main road on which to expose himself to the marauding fighters in daylight.

After excruciating days, literally dragging himself through the jungle, he did make it to a main road and awaited daylight. At the first rays, he crawled out on to the road and lay waiting, confident that at last, the fighters would find him.

One of the great ironies of war was to play itself out that day, and Lance would be it's victim. The President had called a Christmas bombing halt and North Viet Nam was well aware of it. Understanding they would be safe from the attack of fighters even in daylight, the Ho Chi Minh trail was alive with North Viet Nam vehicles. The first to discover Sijan’s near lifeless body were North Viet Nam regulars. They simply threw him in the back of a truck and delivered him to a holding compound in Vinh, North Viet Nam. There, emaciated and with his wounds untreated, he still managed to overpower his guard and escape, only to be recaptured soon there after.

Sijan would eventually be transfer to the Hoa Lo Prison (The Hanoi Hilton) where in his weakened state, he would contract pneumonia and die on January 22, 1968.

But the story of Sijan’s heroic struggle to survive and escape his captors must never be related in part. His epic journey through pain and suffering, urged on by raw courage and the determination to free himself from his captors, is so inspirational that even today all new cadets at the Air Force Academy are required to learn it. The Lance P. Sijan Award, recognizing individuals who have demonstrated the highest qualities of leadership in their jobs and in their lives, has become one of the U.S. Air Force’s most prestigious awards.

Sijan Hall at the Air Force Academy now honors it’s first graduate to receive the Medal Of Honor awarded posthumously by President Gerald Ford in March 1976 and presented to his parents, Jane and Sylvester Sijan.

You will thank me after reading his story. He fought to escape against all odds and died a free man in his heart. His life is meant to inspire us and it does.

“Into The Mouth Of The Cat” is the gripping story of Lance’s 74 day journey to freedom written by Malcolm McConnell and currently available at

By David Rose, Contributing Editor

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