ARMSTRONG, JOHN WILLIAM
Name: John William Armstrong
Date of Birth: 05 December 1926
Home City of Record: Dallas TX
Date of Loss: 09 November 1967
Country of Loss: Laos
Loss Coordinates: 171500N 1060800E
Status (In 1973): Missing In Action
Other Personnel In Incident: Lance P. Sijan (remains returned)
Source: Compiled by Homecoming II Project 15 October 1990 from one or more
of the following: raw data from U.S. Government agency sources,
correspondence with POW/MIA families, published sources, interviews. Updated
by the P.O.W. NETWORK.
SYNOPSIS: 1Lt. Lance P. Sijan was the pilot and LtCol. John W. Armstrong the
bombardier/navigator of an F4C Phantom fighter/bomber sent on a mission over
Laos on November 9, 1967.
Sijan and Armstrong were flying low over the "Ho Chi Minh Trail" when, at
approximately 9 p.m., the aircraft was hit by a surface-to-air missile (SAM)
and crashed. The two went down near the famed Mu Gia Pass, a pass in the
mountainous border region of Laos and Vietnam. It was not until nearly six
years later that it was learned what happened to Sijan and Armstrong. They
were classified Missing in Action.
Sijan evaded capture for nearly 6 weeks. During this time, he was seriously
injured and suffered from shock and extreme weight loss due to lack of food.
The extremely rugged terrain was sometimes almost impassable, but Sijan
continued to try to reach friendly forces.
After being captured by North Vietnamese forces, Sijan was taken to a
holding point for subsequent transfer to a POW 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 the interrogation he was severely tortured,
yet did not reveal information to his captors.
Sijan lapsed into delirium and was placed in the care of another American
POW. During intermittent periods of consciousness, he never complained of
his physical condition, and kept talking about escaping. He was barely
alive, yet continued to fight.
During the period he was cared for, he also told the story of his shootdown
and evasion to other Americans. After their release, his incredible story
was told in "Into the Mouth of the Cat," an account written by Malcolm
McConnell from stories brought back by returning American POWs.
Sijan related to fellow POWs that the aircraft had climbed to approximately
10,000 feet after being struck. Sijan bailed out, but was unable to see what
happened to LTC Armstrong because of the darkness.
In 1977, a Pathet Lao defector, who claimed to have been a prison camp
guard, stated he had been guarding several Americans. According to his
report, one was named "Armstrong." There are only two Armstrongs listed as
MIA. There is little question that the other Armstrong died at the time of
his crash. The Defense Intelligence Agency places no validity in this
Sijan was finally removed from the care of other POWs and they were told he
was being taken to a hospital. They never saw him again. His remains were
returned on March 13, 1974.
In the early 1980's, LtCol. James "Bo" Gritz conducted a number of missions
into Laos attempting to obtain positive proof of live POWs there, or better,
to secure the release of at least one POW. Although Gritz failed to free any
POWs, he returned with a wealth of information on Americans. One thing Gritz
recovered was a U.S. Air Force Academy for the class of 1965, inscribed with
the name "Lance Peter Sijan." The ring was returned to Sijan's family in
Lance Sijan was captured by the North Vietnamese. It is theorized that since
the Pathet Lao also operated throughout Laos, it is possible that Armstrong,
if he was captured, was captured by the Pathet Lao.
Although the Pathet Lao stated publicly they held "tens of tens" of American
POWs, the U.S. never negotiated their release because the U.S. did not
officially recognize the Pathet Lao as a governmental entity. Consequently,
nearly 600 Americans lost in Laos disappeared. Not one American held by the
Lao was ever released.
Lance P. Sijan graduated from the U.S. Air Force Academy in 1965. He was
promoted to the rank of Captain during his captivity, and was awarded the
Congressional Medal for his extraordinary heroism during his evasion and
captivity. Sijan became legendary in his escape attempts and endurance, even
to his Vietnamese captors.
John W. Armstrong graduated from Westpoint in 1949. He was promoted to the
rank of Colonel during the period he was maintained Missing in Action. The
U.S. believes that the Lao or the Vietnamese can account for him, alive or
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