This page tells the story of what happened on the day John became Missing In Action (MIA) in Vietnam and also what is known about Lance Sijan, who was with John in the aircraft on that day. Alot is known about Lance, his remains were eventually returned to American soil... little was known about John Armstrong until recently, when I was contacted by his son, Tom. Please read the following and if you have ANY information not seen here, please contact me.
Unit: 480th Tactical Fighter Squadron
366th Tactical Fighter Wing
DaNang Airbase, South Vietnam
Date of Birth: 05 December 1926
Home City of Record: Garland, Texas
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
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. (Some corrections made with the aid of Tom Armstrong.)
1Lt. Lance P. Sijan was the back seater (WSO) and LtCol. John W. Armstrong the squadron commander and the pilot of an F4C Phantom fighter/bomber sent on a mission over Laos on November 9, 1967. (Tom confirmed that his father, not Sijan, was flying the bomber on the day they came to be POW/MIA. I had the wrong information here before...)
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. (According to Tom, this isn't exactly true. I read a statement made by Major General Don H. Payne that, after dropping a cluster of 500 pound bombs on a target on the Ho Chi Minh Trail, one or more of the bombs detonated prematurely just under the bomber, destroying it. I asked Tom if he had any more information about this and he said, "They had problems with a fuse during the few months surrounding his death. The fuses were notorious for premature detonation and were fixed (not because of him), soon thereafter, I was told.") To be fair, I've included both versions of the incident, since I'm not absolutely sure which is correct. 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 POW's 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 report. (According to Tom, "The "prison guard" that mentioned the name was unable to pick out a photo or any other basic info to make his story credible.")
Sijan was finally removed from the care of other POW's 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 POW's there, or better, to secure the release of at least one POW. Although Gritz failed to free any POW's, he returned with a wealth of information on Americans. One thing Gritz recovered was a U.S. Air Force Academy ring for the class of 1965, inscribed with the name "Lance Peter Sijan." The ring was returned to Sijan's family in Wisconsin.
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 POW's, 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 dead.
NEW !! Tom Armstrong shared some photos and a other very interesting information about John with me ! Click here to visit that page.