Its a heroic story of survival and sacrifice. Air Force fighter pilot Lance Sijan is the only graduate of the United States Air Force Academy to ever receive the Congressional Medal of Honor. It was awarded posthumously after Sijan died in a POW camp in Vietnam.
His sister Janine has produced a documentary film about her brother’s life in hopes of sharing his story of courage as inspiration.
Sijan was flying a combat mission on November 9, 1967, when one of the bombs he was carrying detonated before being released from his jet. He ejected but was seriously injured.
“He had a compound left leg fracture and a mangled right hand and various other serious injuries,” Janine said. “He was able to crawl through the jungle for 46 days in that condition.”
Emaciated, Sijan was eventually captured and taken to the Hanoi Hilton prison. Despite his mistreatment, he refused to divulge any information to the enemy.
“He was adhering strictly to the code of conduct and he was greatly revered even within the prisoners in the prison camp as they tapped out his story on through the wall,” Janine explained.
It was that inspiration through the most challenging circumstances that Janine wants to pass on through the documentary. While her brother died less than two months into his captivity, the strength and courage he showed continue to inspire people today.
“If we end Lance’s life on January 22, 1968, it becomes a very tragic story. But if we understand the ripples and the echos that radiate through his life and all of our lives, I hope that we will help people be very intentional about the footprint that they leave.”
The documentary was also screened at a film festival in the Sijan’s hometown of Milwaukee. Janine wants to see the movie more broadly distributed. Since it relies heavily on costly archival footage, she is raising money through her website to help cover the cost of licensing.