Lance Peter Sijan: Courage Under Fire

Monday, November 22, 2010
By: Rich Bergeron

As a freshman "doolie" at the United States Air Force Academy, I learned that Lance Peter Sijan was the Academy's only medal of honor winner. His legend loomed large as a beacon to greatness, though his stint as a cadet was not particularly spectacular. He blended into the crowd on campus, but when Vietnam came he jumped into an F-4 Phantom and stood out with his skills and his bravery.

The Medal of Honor Citation for Captain Sijan says it all:

"While on a flight over North Vietnam, Capt. Sijan ejected from his disabled aircraft and successfully evaded capture for more than 6 weeks. During this time, he was seriously injured and suffered from shock and extreme weight loss due to lack of food. After being captured by North Vietnamese soldiers, Capt. Sijan was taken to a holding point for subsequent transfer to a prisoner of war camp. In his emaciated and crippled condition, he overpowered one of his guards and crawled into the jungle, only to be recaptured after several hours. He was then transferred to another prison camp where he was kept in solitary confinement and interrogated at length. During interrogation, he was severely tortured; however, he did not divulge any information to his captors. Capt. Sijan lapsed into delirium and was placed in the care of another prisoner. During his intermittent periods of consciousness until his death, he never complained of his physical condition and, on several occasions, spoke of future escape attempts. Capt. Sijan's extraordinary heroism and intrepidity above and beyond the call of duty at the cost of his life are in keeping with the highest traditions of the U.S. Air Force and reflect great credit upon himself and the U.S. Armed Forces."

 .   At the Air Force Academy we memorized the code of conduct and several other passages and quotes meant to ingrain in us a method of surviving any capture and/or interrogation without divulging anything more than name rank and serial number. None of these codes and credos were as significant as knowing Lance Sijan's true tale of survival, bravery, and stalwart support of his country, though. We all knew that despite vicious torture techniques employed on him while in North Vietnamese captivity, Sijan never displayed a weak moment under questioning. He was the toughest of the tough, crawling over harsh terrain on his back with such severe fractures to evade capture for so long. I can never forget his true story of amazing endurance and human spirit. His will to survive without compromising his integrity or his devotion to duty was remarkable.

Find out More about Lance Peter Sijan, United States Air Force Academy Class of 1965, at his Wikipedia Page.

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