When I was about fifteen, I found a book at a yard sale that looked interesting. It was called Into the Mouth of the Cat. It was about the first graduate of the Air Force Academy to win the Medal of Honor. If you can find it, it is definitely worth reading.
Lance Sijan was born in Milwaukee in 1942. After graduating high school, he spent a year at the Naval Academy Prep School, before gaining an appointment to the Air Force Academy. After graduation, he trained as a fighter pilot, then was sent to Vietnam.
On a bomb run on November 9, 1968 as the REO in an F-4 Phantom, he was forced to eject when the fuses on their bomb load went off on release, destroying the aircraft. Sijan had severe injuries, including a fractured skull and a compound fracture of his left leg. His right hand was mangled. A serious rescue attempt was made, and after losing one aircraft and several others having to leave the area due to damage, a ground crew was sent down to get Sijan. After 33 minutes of fighting off the NVA and searching for Sijan, they were forced to leave. Sijan said he would crawl into the jungle and attempt a penetrator rescue later. The next day, unable to raise him on the radio, Sijan was added to the MIA rolls.
Sijan spent the next 46 days evading capture. He was forced to push himself along on his back with his good leg. He survived by eating bugs and leaches, and drinking rainwater and dew off of vegetation. He was captured when he crawled into an NVA camp. Emaciated, starved and severely injured, he overpowered a guard and escaped after a few hours of captivity. He was recaptured after ten hours, and tortured and beaten, never giving any information but name, rank, and serial number. He was transferred to the Hanoi Hilton when he contracted pneumonia. Delirious and at death's door, he mentioned future escape attempts to his cell mate every time he regained consciousness. He died on January 22, 1968.
His story was told by Air Force Colonel Robert R. Craner and Air Force Captain Guy Gruters, POW's who tended to Sijan while he was imprisoned. In 1976, Sijan was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor.
Medal of Honor citationThe President of the United States in the name of The Congress takes pride in presenting the MEDAL OF HONOR to SIJAN, LANCE P. Rank and organization: Captain, U.S. Air Force, 4th Allied POW Wing, Pilot of an F-4C aircraft. Place and Date: North Vietnam, 9 November 1967. Entered service at: Milwaukee, Wis. Born: 13 April 1942, Milwaukee, Wis.Citation: 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 1 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.
The United States Air Force Academy has honored Sijan with an annual award given to the student who best emulates Sijan's dedication to duty. A residence hall is named for him at the academy.