UNDISCLOSED LOCATION SOUTHWEST ASIA --
Airmen of the 332nd AEW gathered for a remote meeting with the sister of a fallen service member who posthumously received the Medal of Honor for his courage and bravery during captivity in the Vietnam Conflict.
Brig. Gen. Joseph Kunkel, the 332nd AEW Commander, opened by introducing Ms. Janine Sijan-Rozina, the sister of Capt. Lance Sijan, a U.S. Air Force Academy graduate and Vietnam Prisoner of War.
Sijan-Rozina relates the story from her childhood, watching him play football in high school and then at the U.S. Air Force Academy where after becoming a commissioned officer went on to fly the F-4 Phantom. That path led directly to the Vietnam War where he flew clearing operations over the Ho Chi Min trail where his aircraft crashed severely injuring him.
Despite a compound fracture to his femur, head injury, and badly injured hand he remained free in the jungle for 48 days. He spent that time dragging himself toward freedom before being captured by the North Vietnamese, Christmas Day 1967.
Enduring heavy torture and nearly starving he still managed to escape one time. He was recaptured within hours and later succumbed to his injuries and disease on Jan. 22, 1968.
This story is memorialized in a film created by his sister. Sijan is the story of Capt. Lance P. Sijan, told through the eyes of fellow captives, academy cadets and professors, and Ms. Sijan-Rozina herself.
“I often say that Lance’s story is a love story,” she said. “He loved his God, his country, his comrades, his family and I know you know something about that too,” she said nodding to the assembled audience of deployed Airmen.
Of the film, she says it’s her mission to help “people find what they have in common with Lance, not what separates them but what they have in common.”
The event at the 332nd AEW allowed service members the opportunity to ask her virtually about Lance and the movie.
Col. Matthew Crowell, the 332nd Vice-Commander, asked how he as a father can nurture in his four children the traits that Capt. Sijan evinced.
“So what you are doing right now is the example of what helps us expand ourselves to our greatest potential, which is serving,” she said. “So you are already doing that as an example for you children.”
She answered many questions during the Q&A session and returned often to several themes; her great reverence for her brother before his death and after, her ongoing efforts to keep his memory alive to the American people and her pursuit of the things that connect her family to Lance.
She told the story of a ring she wears explaining that it was Lance’s class ring from the academy and explained the way it made its way back from the jungle, back from his bamboo prison to her parents in Milwaukee, Wisc., holding it up to the camera so the audience could see another piece of Lance’s life.