Tag Archives: Prisoner of War

Medal of Honor, Major Charles Joseph Loring, Jr., United States Air Force

Major Charles Joseph Loring, Jr., United States Air Force (1918–1952)
Major Charles Joseph Loring, Jr., United States Air Force (1918–1952)

MEDAL OF HONOR

LORING, CHARLES J., JR.

The President of the United States of America, in the name of Congress, takes pride in presenting the Medal of Honor (Posthumously) to Major Charles Joseph Loring, Jr. (AFSN: 13008A), United States Air Force, for conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty while serving with the 80th Fighter-Bomber Squadron, 8th Fighter-Bomber Wing, Fifth Air Force in aerial combat at Sniper Ridge, North Korea, on 22 November 1952. While leading a flight of four F-80 type aircraft on a close support mission, Major Loring was briefed by a controller to dive-bomb enemy gun positions which were harassing friendly ground troops. After verifying the location of the target, Major Loring rolled into his dive bomb run. Throughout the run, extremely accurate ground fire was directed on his aircraft. Disregarding the accuracy and intensity of the ground fire, Major Loring aggressively continued to press the attack until his aircraft was hit. At approximately 4,000 feet, he deliberately altered his course and aimed his diving aircraft at active gun emplacements concentrated on a ridge northwest of the briefed target, turned his aircraft 45 degrees to the left, pulled up in a deliberate, controlled maneuver, and elected to sacrifice his life by diving his aircraft directly into the midst of the enemy emplacements. His selfless and heroic action completely destroyed the enemy gun emplacement and eliminated a dangerous threat to United Nations ground forces. Major Loring’s noble spirit, superlative courage, and conspicuous self-sacrifice in inflicting maximum damage on the enemy exemplified valor of the highest degree and his actions were in keeping with the finest traditions of the U.S. Air Force.

Action Date: November 22, 1952

Service: Air Force

Rank: Major

Company: 80th Fighter-Bomber Squadron

Regiment: 8th Fighter-Bomber Wing

Division: 5th Air Force

This Lockheed F-80C-10-LO Shooting Star, 49-1826, (marked FT-826)  of the 8th Fighter Bomber Wing is the same type as F-80C-10-LO, 49-1830, flown by Major Loring. (U.S. Air Force)

Charles Joseph Loring, Jr., was born at Portland, Maine, 2 October 1918. He was the first of four children of Charles Joseph Loring, a laborer, and Mary Irene Cronin Loring. Charles Loring, Sr., served in the United States military during World War I.

Lieutenant Charles J. Loring, Jr.

Charley Loring attended Cheverus High School, a private religious school in Portland, graduating in 1937.

Loring enlisted in the Air Corps, United States Army, at Cumberland, Maine, 16 November 1942. He was trained as a pilot at Greenville, Mississippi, and Napier Field, Alabama. He was commissioned a second lieutenant, Air Reserve, 16 February 1943.

During World War II, Lieutenant Charles J. Loring, Jr., had been a Republic P-47D Thunderbolt fighter pilot assigned to the 22nd Fighter Squadron, 36th Fighter Group, 9th Air Force, in Europe. Loring was promoted to first lieutenant, Army of the United States (A.U.S.), 24 June 1944. He was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for actions in support of the D-Day invasion of Normandy.

Lieutenant Loring flew 55 combat missions before his P-47D-28-RE, 44-19864, was shot down by ground fire near Hotten, Belgium, on Christmas Eve, 24 December 1944. Captured, Lieutenant Loring was taken to the garrison hospital at Hemer, then transferred to an interrogation center at Frankfurt, Germany. He remained a prisoner of war until Germany surrendered in May 1945.

Lieutenant Charles J. Loring, Jr., stands next to a Republic P-47 Thunderbolt. (World War II Flight Training Museum)

Loring was promoted to captain, A.U.S., 23 October 1945. He was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for actions in support of the D-Day invasion of Normandy. He was also awarded the Air Medal with ten oak leaf clusters, and the Purple Heart.

In 1945, Charles J. Loring, Jr. married Miss Elsie P. Colton of Beverly, Massachusetts, in Boston. They would have two daughters, Aldor Rogers Loring and Charlene Joan Loring.

After World War II came to an end, Captain Loring reverted to the rank of first lieutenant, Air Reserve, 16 February 1946. Loring was appointed first lieutenant, Air Corps, 19 June 1947 with date of rank retroactive to 16 February 1946. In September 1947, the United States Air Force was established as a separate military service, with standing equivalent to the United States Army and United States Navy. Charles Loring was appointed a first lieutenant, United States Air Force, with date of rank again 16 February 1946.

Lieutenant Charles J. Lorig was flying this Republic P-47D-28-RE Thunderbolt, 44-19864, marked 3T W, when he was shot down near Hotten, Belgium, 24 December 1944. (U.S. Air Force photograph via Jim Sterling)

Flying the Lockheed F-80C Shooting Star with the 80th Fighter Bomber Squadron, 8th Fighter Bomber Wing, during the Korean War, Major Loring served as the squadron operations officer. According to his father, Charles J. Loring, Sr., “Charley was a stubborn man. He said he would never be a prisoner again. He was the kind of man who kept his word about everything.”

Major Charles J. Loring, Jr., United States Air Force, Operations Officer, 80th Fighter Bomber Squadron ("Headhunters"), at K-13, Suwon, South Korea, Fall 1950. (U.S. Air Force)
Major Charles J. Loring, Jr., United States Air Force, Operations Officer, 80th Fighter Bomber Squadron (“Headhunters”), at K-13, Suwon, South Korea, Fall 1950. (U.S. Air Force)

The Medal of Honor was awarded by President Dwight D. Eisenhower, 5 May 1953, but this was kept secret by the Air Force “to protect him from enemy reprisal” in the event that Major Loring had not died in the crash of his fighter, but had been captured. The Medal was presented to Mrs. Loring and her two daughters, Aldor and Charlene, by Secretary of the Air Force Harold E. Talbott, during a ceremony held at Bolling Air Force Base, Washington, D.C., 17 April 1954. Limestone Army Airfield in Maine was renamed Loring Air Force Base, 1 October 1954.

Secretary of the Air Force Harold E. Talbott shows the Medal of Honor to the daughters of Major Charles Joseph Loring, Jr., during a presentation ceremony at Bolling Air Force Base, 17 April 1954. Left to right, Secretary Talbott; Charlene Joan Loring, age 4; Aldor Rogers Loring, age 5; Mrs. Loring. (NEA Wirephoto)

A cenotaph memorializing Major Loring is at the Arlington National Cemetery, Arlington, Virginia.

Medal of Honor

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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21 November 1970

"The Raid, Blue Boy Element" by Michael Nikiporenko. (Son Tay Raiders Association)
“The Raid, Blue Boy Element” by Michael Nikiporenko. In this painting, a USAF/Sikorsky HH-3E Jolly Green Giant helicopter, 65-12785, from 37th Aerospace Rescue and Recovery Squadron, call sign BANANA 01, has intentionally crash-landed inside the prison compound at 0219 to insert the BLUE BOY element of Green Berets. (Son Tay Raiders Association)

21 November 1970: Operation Kingpin was a mission to rescue 61 American prisoners of war at the Sơn Tây Prison Camp, 23 miles (37 kilometers) west of Hanoi, North Vietnam. There were over 12,000 North Vietnamese soldiers stationed within five miles of the prison. The ultra-secret mission was carried out by 56 U.S. Army Special Forces soldiers and 98 airmen aboard 28 aircraft.

Months of intelligence gathering, mission planning and meticulous training preceded the mission. Personnel were selected from more than 500 volunteers. Training was conducted at Duke Field, an auxiliary field at Eglin Air Force Base, Florida. A full-size replica of the prison was constructed and live-fire training was conducted. Aircraft formations flew day and night, following the precise courses and distances that would be flown during the actual mission.

Originally planned for October, the mission had to be pushed back to November.

 Reconnaissance photograph showing the Sơn Tây prison and surrounding area. (U.S. Air Force)
Reconnaissance photograph showing the Sơn Tây prison and surrounding area. (U.S. Air Force)

Two Lockheed C-130E(I) Combat Talons (a special operations variant of the four-engine Hercules transport), call signs CHERRY 01 and CHERRY 02, each lead a formation of aircraft for the raid. The assault group, consisting of a Sikorsky HH-3E Jolly Green Giant, 65-12785, (BANANA 01) and five Sikorsky HH-53B/C Super Jolly Green Giant helicopters (APPLE 01–05) carried the Special Forces team. The second formation was a strike group of five Douglas A-1E Skyraiders (PEACH 01–05) for close air support. The Combat Talons provided navigation and communications for their groups and illumination over the prison.

A C-130 Combat Talon leads the assault group during training at Duke Field, near Eglin Air Force Base, Florida, October–November 1970. (U.S. Air Force)
A C-130E Combat Talon leads the assault group during training at Duke Field, near Eglin Air Force Base, Florida, October–November 1970. (U.S. Air Force)
Soldiers of BLUE BOY element aboard the Sikorsky HH-3E Jolly Green Giant, BANANA 01, at the start of Operation Kingpin. (Son Tay Raiders Association)
Rescue force enroute to Sơn Tây. (USAF 071120-F-6420S-002)

Because there was insufficient room to land a helicopter within the prison, it was planned to have BANANA 01, flown by Major Herbert D. Kalen and Lieutenant Colonel Herbert R. Zehnder, and carrying a 14-man assault team, BLUEBOY, crash-land inside the perimeter. The Special Forces soldiers were tasked to locate and protect the prisoners and to kill any guards that might interfere. The larger helicopters first fired on the guard towers with their miniguns and then landed their soldiers outside the prison. The A-1 Skyraiders bombed and strafed nearby foot and vehicle bridges to stop reinforcements from making their way to the prison.

Assault Element Blueboy

Once inside the prison, it was quickly discovered that there were no American POWs there. The assault forces then withdrew. The total time from the beginning to the end of the assault was just 26 minutes. One American soldier suffered a gunshot wound to the leg. The crew chief of BANANA 01 broke an ankle when it was hit by a falling fire extinguisher during the crash landing. As expected, BANANA 01 was written off. Between 100–200 North Vietnamese soldiers were killed.

A Sikorsky HH-53B Super Jolly Green Giant, illuminated by the flash of an exploding surface-to-air missile, leaves the Sơn Tây Prison, 21 November 1970. Banana 01, the Sikorsky HH-3E, is visible inside the prison compound. (Air University, United States Air Force)

During the withdrawal from the area, North Vietnam fired more than 36 surface-to-air missiles at the aircraft. None were hit, though one Republic F-105G Wild Weasel, 62-4436, call sign FIREBIRD 05, was damaged by a near miss. This aircraft ran out of fuel just short of its tanker rendezvous and the crew bailed out over Laos. They were rescued by Super Jolly Green Giants APPLE 04 and APPLE 05, after they had been refueled by an HC-130P Combat Shadow, LIME 02.

Although meticulously planned and carried out, the mission failed because the POWs had been moved to another prison camp, closer to Hanoi (“Camp Faith”). Three days after the raid on Sơn Tây, they were again moved, this time to the infamous Hanoi Hilton.

Jolly Green Giant

Sikorsky HH-3E Jolly Green Giant 67-14709 at the National Museum of the United States Air Force, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio. (U.S. Air Force)
Sikorsky HH-3E Jolly Green Giant 67-14709 at the National Museum of the United States Air Force, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio. This is the same type helicopter as BANANA 01. (U.S. Air Force)

Super Jolly Green Giant

This USAF/Sikorsky MH-53M Pave Low IV, 68-10357, a special operations combat search and rescue helicopter, was APPLE 01 on the Son Tay Raid, 21 November 1970. Flown by LCOL Warner A. Britton and MAJ Alfred C. Montream, it carried the command element for the raid. Built at Stratford, Connecticut as a HH-53C Super Jolly Green Giant, it was continuously upgraded over its service life, to MH-53E, MH-53J and finally MH-53M. It flew its last mission 28 March 2008 in Iraq. After 38 years of continuous front line service, Three Five Seven was retired to the National Museum of the United States Air Force. (U.S. Air Force)
This USAF/Sikorsky MH-53M Pave Low IV, 68-10357, a special operations combat search and rescue helicopter, was APPLE 01 on the Sơn Tây Raid, 21 November 1970. Flown by LCOL Warner A. Britton and MAJ Alfred C. Montream, it carried the command element for the raid. Built at Stratford, Connecticut, as a HH-53C Super Jolly Green Giant, it was continuously upgraded over its service life, to MH-53E, MH-53J and finally MH-53M. It flew its last mission 28 March 2008 in Iraq. After 38 years of continuous front line service, Three Five Seven was retired to the National Museum of the United States Air Force. (U.S. Air Force)

Combat Talon, Combat Shadow

This Lockheed MC-130E-LM Combat Talon I, serial number 64-0523, was CHERRY 01, leading the assault helicopters during the raid on the Sơn Tây prison. After 47 years of service and more than 23,500 flight hours, Five-Two-Three made its last flight, 22 June 2012. It is shown in this photograph taking off from its special operations base at Duke Field, near Eglin AFB, Florida, flying to Cannon AFB, New Mexico, where it will be placed on display. (U.S. Air Force)
This Lockheed MC-130E-LM Combat Talon I, serial number 64-0523, was CHERRY 01, leading the assault helicopters during the raid on the Sơn Tây prison. After 47 years of service and more than 23,500 flight hours, Five-Two-Three made its last flight, 22 June 2012. It is shown in this photograph taking off from its special operations base at Duke Field, near Eglin AFB, Florida, on its final flight. It is on static display at Cannon AFB, New Mexico. LIME 02, HC-130P-130-LM Combat Shadow 65-0991, is also displayed at Cannon. (U.S. Air Force)

Skyraider

This Douglas A-1E Skyraider, 52-132649, was transferred from the U.S. Navy to the U.S. Air Force in 1952. In 1966, it was flown by Major Bernard Fisher when he rescued another pilot, an act of heroism for which Major Fisher was awarded the Medal of Honor. This Skyraider was restored by the National Museum of the United States Air Force and is in its permanent collection at Wright-Patterson AFB, Ohio. (U.S. Air Force)
This Douglas A-1E Skyraider, 52-132649, was transferred from the U.S. Navy to the U.S. Air Force in 1952. In 1966, it was flown by Major Bernard Fisher when he rescued another pilot, an act of heroism for which Major Fisher was awarded the Medal of Honor. This Skyraider was restored by the National Museum of the United States Air Force and is in its permanent collection at Wright-Patterson AFB, Ohio. It is the same type aircraft as PEACH 01–05. (U.S. Air Force)

Wild Weasel

Republic F-105G Wild Weasel 63-8320 (converted from an F-105-1-RE Thunderchief) at the National Museum of the United States Air Force. This is the same type aircraft as the F-105G lost on the Sơn Tây Raid, 21 November 1970.

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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18 November 1955

Major Frank Kendall Everest, Jr., U.S. Air Force, with the Bell X-2 supersonic research rocketplane, on Rogers Dry Lake at Edwards AFB, California, 1955. (U.S. Air Force)
Major Frank Kendall Everest, Jr., U.S. Air Force, with the Bell X-2 supersonic research rocketplane, on Rogers Dry Lake at Edwards AFB, California, 1955. (U.S. Air Force)

18 November 1955: Major Frank Kendall Everest, Jr., USAF, makes the first powered flight in the Bell X-2 research rocketplane, 46-674, at Edwards AFB, California. The rocketplane was airdropped from a Boeing EB-50D Superfortress, 48-096. Only one 5,000-lb. thrust rocket tube ignited, but that was enough to accelerate “Pete” Everest to Mach 0.992 (655.4 miles per hour/1,054.5 kilometers per hour) at 35,000 feet (10,668 meters).

The X-2 was a joint project of the U.S. Air Force and NACA (the National Advisory Committee on Aeronautics, the predecessor of NASA). The rocketplane was designed and built by Bell Aircraft Corporation of Buffalo, New York, to explore supersonic flight at speeds beyond the capabilities of the earlier Bell X-1 and Douglas D-558-II Skyrocket.

In addition to the aerodynamic effects of speeds in the Mach 2.0–Mach 3.0 range, engineers knew that the high temperatures created by aerodynamic friction would be a problem, so the aircraft was built from stainless steel and K-Monel, a copper-nickel alloy.

The Bell Aircraft Corporation X-2 was 37 feet, 10 inches (11.532 meters) long with a wingspan of 32 feet, 3 inches (9.830 meters) and height of 11 feet, 10 inches (3.607 meters). Its empty weight was 12,375 pounds (5,613 kilograms) and loaded weight was 24,910 pounds (11,299 kilograms).

The Bell X-2 being loaded into the EB-50D Superfortress "mothership" at Edwards AFB, California. (LIFE Magazine)
The Bell X-2 being loaded into the EB-50D Superfortress “mothership” at Edwards AFB, California. (LIFE Magazine)

The X-2 was powered by a throttleable two-chamber Curtiss-Wright XLR25-CW-1 rocket engine that produced 2,500–15,000 pounds of thrust (11.12–66.72 kilonewtons)

Rather than use its limited fuel capacity to take off and climb to altitude, the X-2 was dropped from a modified heavy bomber as had been the earlier rocketplanes. A four-engine Boeing B-50D-95-BO Superfortress bomber, serial number 48-096, was modified as the drop ship and redesignated EB-50D.

The launch altitude was 30,000 feet (9,144 meters). After the fuel was exhausted, the X-2 glided to a touchdown on Rogers Dry Lake at Edwards Air Force Base.

The Bell X-2 and Boeing EB-50D Superfortress in flight. (U.S. Air Force)
The Bell X-2 and Boeing EB-50D Superfortress in flight. (U.S. Air Force)

Pete Everest joined the United States Army Air Corps shortly before the United States entered World War II. He graduated from pilot training in 1942 and was assigned as a P-40 Warhawk pilot, flying combat missions in North Africa, Sicily and Italy. He was credited with shooting down two German airplanes and damaging a third.

Everest was returned to the United States to serve as a flight instructor. He requested a return to combat and was then sent to the China-Burma-India theater of operations where he shot down four Japanese airplanes. He was himself shot down by ground fire in May 1945. Everest was captured by the Japanese and suffered torture and inhumane conditions before being freed at the end of the war.

The Bell X-2 was dropped from a Boeing EB-50D Superfortress, 48-096. (U.S. Air Force)

After the war, Everest was assigned as a test pilot at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, before going west to the Air Force Flight Test Center at Edwards Air Force Base, California. At Edwards, he was involved in nearly every flight test program, flying the F-88, F-92, F-100, F-101, F-102, F-104 and F-105 fighters, the XB-51, YB-52, B-57 and B-66 bombers. He also flew the pure research aircraft, the “X planes:” the X-1, X-1B, X-2, X-3, X-4 and X-5. Pete Everest flew the X-1B to Mach 2.3, and he set a world speed record with the X-2 at Mach 2.9 (1,957 miles per hour, 3,149.5 kilometers per hour) which earned him the title, “The Fastest Man Alive.”

Pete Everest gives some technical advice to William Holden ("Major Lincoln Bond"), with Bell X-2 46-674, on the set of "Toward The Unknown", 1956.
Pete Everest gives some technical advice to actor William Holden (“Major Lincoln Bond”), with Bell X-2 46-674, on the set of “Toward The Unknown,” 1956. (Toluca Productions)

Frank Everest returned to operational assignments and commanded a fighter squadron, two combat crew training wings, and was assigned staff positions at the Pentagon. On 20 November 1963, Colonel Everest, commanding the 4453rd Combat Crew Training Squadron, flew one of the first two operational McDonnell F-4C Phantom II fighters from the factory in St. Louis to MacDill Air Force Base. In 1965, Pete Everest was promoted to the rank of brigadier general. He was commander of the Aerospace Rescue and Recovery Service. He retired from the Air Force in 1973 after 33 years of service. General Everest died in 2004.

Brigadier General Frank Kendall Everest, Jr., United States Air Force, 1920–2004. (U.S. Air Force)
Brigadier General Frank Kendall Everest, Jr., United States Air Force, 1920–2004. (U.S. Air Force)

© 2016, Bryan R. Swopes

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Medal of Honor: Captain Lance Peter Sijan, United States Air Force

1st Lieutenant Lance Peter Sijan, United States Air Force, with a McDonnell F-4C Phantom II. (U.S. Air Force/Milwaukee Independent)

9 November 1967: First Lieutenant Lance Peter Sijan, United States Air Force, was assigned as the Weapons System Officer of AWOL 01, a McDonnell F-4C-23-MC Phantom II, serial number 64-0751. The aircraft commander was Lieutenant Colonel John William Armstrong (USMA ’49), commanding officer of the 480th Tactical Fighter Squadron.

AWOL 01 was the lead ship of a two-aircraft strike against the Ho Chi Minh Trail where it crossed a small river at Ban Loboy, Laos. The flight departed Da Nang Air Base at 2000 hours. At 2045 hours, AWOL 01 was making a second low pass over the target when it was enveloped in a ball of fire. The Phantom entered a steep climb, reaching approximately 10,000 feet (3,048 meters), then nosed over and plunged straight into the ground. (Sources vary, stating that 64-0751 had been hit by ground fire, a surface-to-air-missile, or that its bombs had detonated prematurely immediately after release.)

The red X shows the location where AWOL 01 was lost, just southwest of the Laos/Vietnam border. (Together We Served)

Lieutenant Sijan was able to eject. It is not known if Colonel Armstrong was able to escape the doomed fighter. He was not seen or heard from again.

Sijan was severely injured, suffering a fractured skull, a broken right wrist and injured hand, and a compound fracture of his left leg. For two days, he lapsed in and out of consciousness. Then on 11 November, he was able to make radio contact with fighters overhead.

Lockheed HC-130P Combat King refuels a Sikorsky HH-3E Jolly Green Giant with Douglas A-1E and A-1H Skyraiders, SEA 1968. (U.S. Air Force)

A rescue operation was mounted, eventually involving more than 100 aircraft. Nine aircraft were damaged by enemy ground fire, and another, a Douglas A-1 Skyrader, was shot down. (It’s pilot was rescued.) An Air Force rescue helicopter, a Sikorsky HH-3E Jolly Green Giant, call sign JOLLY GREEN 15, was in radio contact with Sijan and located his approximate position. Sijan reported that he the helicopter in sight and requested that they hold their position and lower the jungle penetrator. Sijan said that he would crawl to it, and specifically said that they should not insert a pararescueman because enemy soldiers were in the immediate area. The helicopter held the hover over the triple canopy jungle for 33 minutes but never saw the injured pilot. He was not heard from again. Eventually, the rescue operation was called off.

Lance Sijan moved through the jungle by crawling. He was able to evade capture for six weeks before, unconscious, he was found by North Vietnamese soldiers. Taken to a camp near the Ban Karai Pass,

     Sijan waited until a single soldier was left to guard him. He lured the guard close, then overcame him and rendered him unconscious with a left-handed chop to the base of the skull. He tied the guard’s shirt around his swollen leg, took his carbine, and crawled into the jungle.

     He was recaptured within half a day.

—”The Courage of Lance Sijan,” by John T. Correll, AIR FORCE Magazine, July 2004, Page 54

Sijan was eventually take to the Hỏa Lò Prison—the infamous Hanoi Hilton. He had never received medical treatment for his injuries. During his ordeal he lost more than 100 pounds (45 kilograms). He was subject to interrogation, torture and isolation. He was very ill and by mid-January was suffering from pneumonia. His captors removed him from his cell on 18 January 1968. He was not seen by his fellow prisoners of war after that date. It was reported that he died on 22 January 1968. Lance Peter Sijan was just 25 years old.
Medal of Honor (Detail from a photograph by Mr. Steve White)

          The President of the United States of America, authorized by Act of Congress, March 3, 1863, has awarded in the name of The Congress, the MEDAL OF HONOR posthumously to

CAPTAIN LANCE P. SIJAN

UNITED STATES AIR FORCE

for conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity in action at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty:

          While on a flight over North Vietnam on 9 November 1967, Captain Sijan ejected from his disabled aircraft and successfully evaded capture for more than six 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, Captain Sijan was taken to a holding point for subsequent transfer to a Prisoner of War camp. In his emaciated and crippled condition, he overpowered one 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. Captain 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. 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 United States Air Force and reflect great credit upon himself and the Armed Forces of the United States.

/s/ Gerald R. Ford

Hỏa Lò Prison, the “Hanoi Hilton. (U.S. Air Force)
Lance P. Sijan, (1960 Oracle)

Lance Peter Sijan was born 13 April 1942 at Milwaukee, Wisconsin. He was the first of three children of Sylvester Sijan and Jane A. Attridge Sijan. Lance attended Bay View High School in Milwaukee. He was interested in science and art. He played on the varsity basketball, football, swimming and track teams, and was a member of the science club, foreign language and art clubs. Sijan was chosen to speak at the school’s graduation ceremony.

Cadet 4th Class, Sijan, L.P., 1961 (U.S. Air Force)

After finishing high school, Sijan enlisted in the United States Air Force as an Airman, 3rd Class. To improve his education, Airman Sijan was sent to the Naval Academy Preparatory School at Newport, Rhode Island. Completing the one-year course, now-Airman 2nd Class Sijan was appointed as a cadet at the United States Air Force Academy, Colorado Springs, Colorado.

Sports, academics

While on summer leave from the Academy, on 27 July 1964, Sijan and his younger brother, Marc F. Sijan, were sailing on Lake Weyauwega, Wisonsin, when a gust of wind capsized their boat. Thrown into the water, they unsuccessfully attempted to right the small craft, They were eventually rescued by a motorboat driven by their father.

Local automobile dealerships in Colorado Springs offered special pricing on new cars to Air Force Academy cadets. The Chevrolet Corvette was a popular choice. For his first class (senior) year, Sijan ordered a 1965 Corvette roadster. The car was painted Roman Red and had a white interior. It was powered by a 326.726-cubic-inch (5.354 liter) L75 small block V-8 engine rated at 300 horsepower, with a 4-speed transmission. He picked the car up at the Corvette assembly plant in St. Louis, Missouri.

Lance Sijan with his red 1965 Chevrolet Corvette. (Hemmings)

Cadet 1st Class Sijan graduated from the Air Force Academy with a bachelor of science degree and was commissioned a Second Lieutenant, United States Air Force, 9 June 1965.

Lieutenant Sijan was sent to Laredo Air Force Base, Texas, for undergraduate pilot training. Awarded his pilot’s wings in November 1966, Sijan was next assigned to the 431st Tactical Fighter Squadron at George Air Force Base in California, for Combat Crew Training and transition to the F-4C and F-4D Phantom II. In July 1967, he was transferred to the 480th Tactical Fighter Squadron, 366th Tactical Fighter Wind (“Gunfighters) based at DaNang, Republic of Vietnam.

480th Tactical Fighter Squadron pilots, circa 1967. Lieutenant Lance P. Sijan in seated in the front row, fourth from the left. Lieutenant Colonel John W. Armstrong, squadron commander, is standing in the second row, tenth from left, near center. The aircraft is McDonnell F-4C-23-MC Phantom II 64-0759, assigned to the 366th Tactical Fighter Wing commander, Colonel Bud Kaldy.. (Together We Served)

For his actions in combat 22 August 1967, Lieutenant Sijan was awarded the DIstinguished Flying Cross. His citation reads:

The President of the United States of America, authorized by Act of Congress, July 2, 1926, takes pleasure in presenting the Distinguished Flying Cross to First Lieutenant Lance Peter Sijan (AFSN: AF-16419378/F-80654/3537K), United States Air Force, for extraordinary achievement while participating in aerial flight as the Pilot of an F-4C “Phantom II” tactical jet fighter over North Vietnam on 22 August 1967. On that date, Lieutenant Sijan voluntarily risked his life in striking a heavily defended storage area. Despite heavy ground fire, he participated in multiple passes to deliver flares and ordnance directly on the target. Undaunted by darkness, treacherous terrain, marginal weather, and determined defenses, Lieutenant Sijan dealt a telling blow to the hostile forces by denying them vital war material and petroleum products. The professional competence, aerial skill, and devotion to duty displayed by Lieutenant Sijan reflect great credit upon himself and the United States Air Force.

Outside of the Hanoi Hilton, nothing was known of Lieutenant Sijan. He had not been heard from since 11 November 1967. Classified as Missing in Action (MIA), Sijan was promoted to the rank of Captain, U.S. Air Force, 13 June 1968.

Captain Sijan’s remains returned to the United States on 13 March 1974. Once positively identified, on 23 April 1974, his status was changed to Killed in Action (KIA).

In a ceremony at The White House, 4 March 1976, Gerald R. Ford, 38th President of the United States of America, presented the Medal of Honor to Sijan’s parents.

Captain Lance Peter Sijan is the only graduate of the United States Air Force Academy to have been awarded the Medal of Honor.

Lance Sijan’s USAFA class ring.

© 2019, Bryan R. Swopes

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9 November 1961

Major Robert M. White was the first pilot to exceed Mach 4, Mach 5, and on 9 November 1961, he flew to Mach 6.04. (NASA)
Major Robert M. White was the first pilot to exceed Mach 4, Mach 5, and on 9 November 1961, he flew to Mach 6.04. (U.S. Air Force)

9 November 1961: Major Robert M. White, U.S. Air Force, became the first pilot to fly faster than Mach 6 when he flew the number two North American Aviation X-15 hypersonic research rocketplane, 56-6671, to Mach 6.04.

This was the 45th flight of the X-15 program, and Bob White’s 11th flight. The purpose of this test flight was to accelerate 56-6671 to its maximum velocity, to gather data about aerodynamic heating at hypersonic speeds, and to evaluate the rocketplane’s stability and handling.

Boeing NB-52A Stratofortress 52-003 carries a North American Aviation X-15 piloted by Major Bob White. (NASA)
Boeing NB-52A Stratofortress 52-003 carries a North American Aviation X-15 piloted by Major Bob White. (NASA)

The X-15 was carried to approximately 45,000 feet (13,716 meters) while mounted to a pylon under the right wing of the “mothership,” a Boeing NB-52B Stratofortress, 52-008, nicknamed Balls 8. White was dropped over Mud Lake, Nevada, approximately 200 miles (322 kilometers) north of Edwards Air Force Base. Once clear of the B-52, he ignited the Reaction Motors XLR99-RM-1 rocket engine, and with it producing 57,000 pounds of thrust (253.549 kilonewtons) at full throttle, the X-15 accelerated for 86.9 seconds. The rocketplane reached a peak altitude of 101,600 feet (30,968 meters). Its speed was Mach 6.04 (4,094 miles per hour/6,589 kilometers per hour).

White stated in his post-flight report, “When I leveled off at about 101,000 feet, I made a little downward pressure [on the control stick], because I didn’t want to be climbing. I remember . . . going along watching that [Mach] meter reading roughly 6,000 feet per second, [and] saying to myself, ‘Go, go, go, go!’ We did just crack it, because we knew that bringing all the proper things together, we could or should get just about Mach 6.”

In order to achieve the goal, the flight plan called for pushing the LR-99 to the point of exhaustion instead of manually shutting down the engine at an arbitrary point. White said, “The shutdown seemed to be a little bit different this time, compared with a shutdown by closing the throttle. It seemed to occur over a longer time interval.” 

The X-15 Rocket Plane: Flying the First Wings into Space, by Michelle Evans, University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln and London, 2013, Chapter 3 at Page 87.

The number two North American Aviation X-15, 56-6671, is dropped from the Boeing NB-52A Stratofortress, 52-003. The XLR99 rocket engine is just igniting. Frost from the cryogenic fuels coats the fuselage. (NASA)
The number two North American Aviation X-15, 56-6671, is dropped from the Boeing NB-52A Stratofortress, 52-003. The XLR99 rocket engine is just igniting. Frost from the cryogenic fuels coats the fuselage. (NASA)

“The airplane really did get hot on those flights. Temperatures in excess of 1,300 °F. were recorded. Parts of the airplane glowed cherry red and softened up a bit during those flights. The airplane got so damned hot that it popped and banged like an old iron stove. It spewed smoke out of its bowels and it twitched like frog legs in a skillet. But it survived.”

At the Edge of Space: The X-15 Flight Program, by Milton O. Thompson, Smithsonian Institution Press, Washington, 1992, at Page 98.

North American Aviation X-15 56-6671 accelerates after the XLR99 engine is ignited. (NASA)
North American Aviation X-15 56-6671 accelerates after the XLR99 engine is ignited. (NASA)

As the X-15 decelerated through Mach 2.4, the right side windshield shattered, leaving it completely opaque. On Bob White’s previous flight, the left windshield had also broken. Fortunately, in both cases, only the outer layer of the dual pane glass broke. The reduced visibility made the approach difficult to judge, but White made a successful landing, touching down on Rogers Dry Lake after a flight of 9 minutes, 31.2 seconds duration.

The number three North American Aviation X-15 rocketplane, 56-6672, just before touchdown on Rogers Dry Lake. A Lockheed F-104 Starfighter chase plane escorts it. The green smoke helps the pilots judge wind direction and speed. Frost on the X-15's belly shows residual propellants in the tanks. (NASA)
The number three North American Aviation X-15 rocketplane, 56-6672, just before touchdown on Rogers Dry Lake. A Lockheed F-104 Starfighter chase plane escorts it. The green smoke helps the pilots judge wind direction and speed. Frost on the X-15’s belly shows residual propellants in the tanks. (NASA)
NASA ET62-0270
The shattered windshield of X-15 56-6671, 9 November 1961. (NASA)

A P-51 Mustang fighter pilot in World War II, Robert M. White was shot down on his 52nd combat mission in February 1945 and captured. He was held as a prisoner of war until the war in Europe came to an end in April 1945. White was recalled to active duty during the Korean War. He was a graduate of the Air Force Experimental Test Pilot School and flew tests of many aircraft at Edwards before entering the X-15 program.

Major White had been the first pilot to fly faster than Mach 4, Mach 5 and Mach 6. He was the first to fly over 200,000 feet, then over 300,000 feet. He made at total of sixteen X-15 flights.

Major Robert M. White, U.S. Air Force, with one of the three North American Aviation X-15s on Rogers Dry Lake, 1961. (NASA)
Major Robert M. White, U.S. Air Force, with one of the three North American Aviation X-15s on Rogers Dry Lake, 1961. (NASA)

After leaving the X-15 program, Bob White returned to operational duties. Later, he flew 70 combat missions over North Vietnam in the Republic F-105 Thunderchief supersonic fighter bomber, including leading the attack against the Paul Doumer Bridge at Hanoi, 11 August 1967, for which he was awarded the Air Force Cross. He next went to Wright-Patterson AFB where he was director of the F-15 Eagle systems program. He returned to Edwards AFB as commander of the Air Force Flight Test Center. White was promoted to Major General in 1975.

General White retired from the U.S. Air Force in 1981. He died 10 March 2010.

A North American Aviation support crew deactivates X-15 56-6671 on Rogers Dry Lake after a flight, while the mothership, NB-52A Stratofortress 52-003 flies overhead. (NASA)
A North American Aviation support crew deactivates X-15 56-6671 on Rogers Dry Lake after a flight, while the mothership, NB-52A Stratofortress 52-003 flies overhead. (NASA)

© 2016, Bryan R. Swopes

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