Lance Sijan was born on April 13, 1942, in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. He enlisted in the U.S. Air Force Reserve on June 30, 1960, and attended the U.S. Naval Academy Prep School from July 21, 1960, to March 23, 1961. Sijan entered the U.S. Air Force Academy in June 1961 and graduated and was commissioned a 2Lt in the U.S. Air Force on June 9, 1965. He next entered Undergraduate Pilot Training and was awarded his pilot wings in August 1966. Sijan completed combat crew training in the F-4 Phantom II at the 479th Tactical Fighter Squadron, George AFB, California, and began flying combat missions in Southeast Asia with the 480th Tactical Fighter Squadron at Da Nang AB in the Republic of Vietnam in July 1967. On November 9, 1967, Lt Sijan was forced to eject over North Vietnam while flying his 52nd combat mission. Even though he was badly injured, he managed to evade capture for 46 days before being taken as a Prisoner of War on December 25, 1967. Sijan managed a brief escape but was quickly recaptured and taken to Hanoi. After nearly a month of torture and lack of medical care, Lance Sijan died in captivity on January 22, 1968. He was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions, the first Air Force Academy graduate so honored. Lance Sijan's remains were returned to the United States on March 13, 1974, and he was buried at Arlington Park Cemetery in his hometown of Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
His Medal of Honor Citation reads:
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.