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Alumni, Character, Historical, Leadership, The Academy

Remembering Capt Lance P. Sijan, USAFA ’65

Capt Sijan Boarding Plane

Lt. Gen. Jay Silveria, Jan. 22, 2018
U.S. Air Force Academy Superintendent

Fifty years ago today, Lance P. Sijan (USAFA Class of 1965) died as a prisoner of war at the infamous “Hanoi Hilton.”  As we remember him today, I want each of us to reflect on what his contributions and legacy mean to our service and our Academy.  While I encourage you to read one of the many books written about Captain Sijan, today I want to share with you the last line of his Medal of Honor citation.  It reads:

“Captain 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.”

Let that sink in, “keeping with the highest traditions of the U.S. Air Force.”  His extraordinary heroism is a somber and powerful reminder for all Airmen of what it means to serve in our Air Force.  Here at the Air Force Academy, where Sijan Hall bears his name, his example is an enduring reminder that inspires and epitomizes the Long Blue Line.

Captain Sijan’s story should also remind each of us, cadets and permanent party alike, of the gravity of what our graduates will do and that they must be ready for the challenges that await when they leave our campus.  Less than three years after throwing his hat in the air in Falcon Stadium, Captain Sijan was alone in the jungles of Laos fighting for his Nation and his life.  I talk a lot about warrior ethos, and this is why.  Captain Sijan’s honor, courage, and indefatigable will to prevail define the fundamental character of what it means to be an Airman.  As we prepare our cadets for the modern profession of arms, his spirit must reverberate across our campus.  His legacy must never fade.

While Sijan’s story exemplifies the traits of a warrior, we also have examples of those traits closer in time and location…right here on our campus.  Among our AOCs, AMTs, faculty, staff, flight instructors, permanent party, and coaches are those who have experience on the modern battlefield.  They are coming from the fights we now face, and those that our cadets will enter in the near future. I encourage you to share your own stories with our young leaders, including those difficult ones of sacrifice, loss, and hard lessons learned.  Our close connection to the current fight, though as far removed as we might seem here in Colorado Springs, must be made a reality for our cadets.

When he graduated in 1965, there is no doubt Captain Sijan was prepared to fight and to lead.  So too must there be no doubt about the Class of 2018, and every class of graduates thereafter. Thank you for joining me in reflecting on Captain Sijan’s uncommon courage, and for honoring the legacy of those who have bravely served our Air Force.