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Unbroken Will: The Lance Sijan Story


The Vietnam POW experience includes many examples of extraordinary endurance and courage. One of the most notable is the story of Air Force Lt. Lance Sijan, who was shot down, captured and ultimately awarded the Medal of Honor posthumously for his actions as a POW. 

After being shot down over Laos in November 1967, Lt. Sijan evaded the enemy for 46 days, despite a broken leg and other injuries. When he was finally captured, he disabled one of his guards, crawled back into the jungle and was not recaptured for several hours. 

Once found again, Sijan was tortured in Hoa Lo prison. Fellow prisoners heard him and knew he gave away no information--but he was badly hurt. Sijan told fellow POWs his tale and asked for their help in escaping yet again. But he was too badly injured and sick to survive--his captors removed him from his cell and Sijan died the next day, on Jan. 22, 1968. 

Lt. Sijan was posthumously promoted to captain in 1968, and awarded the Medal of Honor in 1976 for his heroism. He became the first Air Force Academy graduate to receive the Medal of Honor. Lance Sijan was only one of 65 POWs who died in captivity, but his story represents the heroism and devotion of all those who did not return from the grim prisons of Southeast Asia. 

POW Medals of Honor 
Seven other Southeast Asia POWs were awarded the Medal of Honor: Col. George "Bud" Day, USAF; Col. Leo Thorsness, USAF; Vice Adm. James Stockdale, USN; Col. Donald Cook, USMC (posthumous); Master Sgt. Jon Cavaiani, USA; E-3 William Port, USA; and Capt. Humbert "Rocky" Versace, USA (posthumous). 

Click here to return to Return with Honor: American Prisoners of War in Southeast Asia.