A Milwaukee hero remembered
MILWAUKEE - The highest leadership award handed out by the U.S. Air Force each year is called the Cpt Lance Sijan Award, named after a guy from Bayview who went above the call of duty to protect Americans during the Vietnam War. His sister spoke with us this Memorial Day weekend.
Besides that honor, Cpt. Sijan's name also appears on a city park, at war memorials and on a building at the 128th, plus numerous scholarships. His story starts in Bayview where he was class president, an all star football player and the lead role in A King and I.
"That's really a good look at how I felt about him all my life. He was always just my king," said Janine Sijan-Rozina.
Janine Sijan-Rozina met with us on the lakeside property where the two played as kids. Though 12 years younger, Janine and Lance had a special bond right from the start.
"He would always ask to take me out in the stroller and ask to feed me," said Sijan-Rozina.
A friendship ended all too early. It was 1967. Cpt. Sijan's aircraft malfunctioned over North Vietnam. Rescuers were ready to land in this hot bed, but then...
"Lance called them off and he said I'll crawl to you," said Sijan-Rozina.
But Lance never made it to them.
"His battery died and they couldn't locate him again," said Sijan-Rozina.
The enemy did and took him captive.
"He motioned a guard over and he knocked the guard out, rolled off the table they had put him on and crawled back out into the jungle," said Sijan-Rozina.
But his freedom didn't last long. The VietCong found Sijan and dragged him back. They tortured him, demanding U.S. secrets, but Sijan held true to the code of conduct, stating only his name, rank and serial number. How did he keep going?
"Those didn't come from a place that people think are superhuman. IT came from a regular guy that made decisions just like we do everyday," said Sijan-Rozina.
Lance never made it home. Years later, we asked Janine what hurts the most.
"How humanity could be so horrific and torture someone. That was very difficult but I have a very strong faith in God and so did he and so did our whole family," said Sijan-Rozina.
We should tell you that two others who'd been with Sijan in that prison did come home, and shared their story with his family. Janine is putting together a documentary of his life story. For now, you'll see her at the place of grand marshall at Monday's Milwaukee parade. But, she's quick to point out, she's not the grand marshall, her brother is.