Sijan left legacy of love and leadership

The Capt. Lance P. Sijan display at the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force tells the story of how Sijan was captured and tortured in Hoa Lo prison. He died on Jan. 21, 1968 and posthumously received the Medal of Honor for his heroism.

The Capt. Lance P. Sijan display at the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force tells the story of how Sijan was captured and tortured in Hoa Lo prison. He died on Jan. 21, 1968 and posthumously received the Medal of Honor for his heroism. (U.S. Air Force photo by Christa D'Andrea)

The Lance P. Sijan bronze statue is displayed at the U.S. Air Force Academy. Sijan was the first USAFA graduate to receive the Medal of Honor.

The Lance P. Sijan bronze statue is displayed at the U.S. Air Force Academy. Sijan was the first USAFA graduate to receive the Medal of Honor. (U.S. Air Force photo by Jason Gutierrez)

JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-RANDOLPH, Texas --

November marks the 50th commemorative year since Capt. Lance P. Sijan ejected from his aircraft over Vietnam following an ordnance explosion.

Today, Sijan’s story is being re-told through the Profession of Arms Center of Excellence’s newest Portraits in Courage video, “Unbroken Will: The Lance P. Sijan Story.”

”I am so grateful that the Air Force continues to recognize the spirit that lived in Lance Sijan,” said Janine Sijan-Rozina, Lance’s sister.  “Lance’s message casts a large net. This PACE tribute will continue to reach many who seek to manifest that which lives in each one of us. A made up mind is a powerful thing.  Lance’s life is the perfect example of that.”

Sijan, is the first academy graduate to have received the Medal of Honor. He had a number of serious injuries after ejecting from his aircraft, to include a compound fracture of the leg. For 46 days he dragged himself along the jungle floor until being captured by the Viet Cong. Upon his capture, he was emaciated and covered in infected sores.

“I could not believe what had happened to Lance’s body. He was so thin and emaciated I did not recognize him at all,” recounted retired Air Force Captain Guy Gruthers at the May dedication of the Lance P. Sijan Memorial Plaza in Milwaukee.

Gruthers was a fellow academy grad and POW at the Hanoi Hilton. He and another prisoner were charged with taking care of Sijan, “but the guards apparently felt Lance would die soon. So they viciously beat and tortured him [Sijan] in an attempt to obtain information quickly,” Gruters recalled.

Narrated by Tech. Sgt. Jamen Berry, “Unbroken Will,” talks about Sijan’s legacy of love and leadership.

Lance never gave up believing they would escape. His love of country – and of his Airmen – was immeasurable, and unbroken right up to the end,” Berry who is a security forces Airman and an instructor with the 343rd Training Squadron at JBSA-Lackland, narrates.

Sijan-Rozina, who is 12 years younger than her brother, said “Lance took on a role of mentor and protector for me.  He was always physically, mentally, and spiritually larger than life.  It was his nature to respond where he was needed.” 

To honor his legacy, today the Lance P. Sijan award, first presented in 1981, recognizes the accomplishments of officers and enlisted leaders who demonstrate the highest qualities of leadership in the performance of their duties and conduct of their lives.

The 2016 award winners were recently recognized in a ceremony at the Pentagon.

“He never lost faith in his God, his nation, his family and his comrades,” Sijan-Rozina said at the ceremony. “For decades I have heard people who have come to know Lance’s story and embrace his life say to themselves ‘he could do that, then I could do this.'”

Unbroken Will was produced as part of the Heritage Today program run by PACE. Each video in the series is linked to the core values and is designed to inspire and promote critical thinking and group discussion. The series includes heritage, major command, Portraits in Courage and career field identity videos.

“Lance Sijan was a true warrior,” Berry added. “Every Airman should aspire to serve by his example. He never gave up.”

For more videos, go to www.airman.af.mil