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The Story of Lance Sijan

Into the Mouth of the Cat: The Story of Lance Sijan, Hero of Vietnam is a heartfelt and wrenching piece of non-fiction which tells the story of the US soldier Lance Sijan after his aircraft is shot down on the boarder of Vietnam and Laos and he is captured by the enemy. During the story, Lance is constantly thinking of his family and friends back home, and his country, as he tries to escape. Lance's story is compelling because it is not told by him (he does not survive his ordeal), but by a high school friend of his who pieces together information he researches to tell the story. This man, Malcolm McConnell, researches what happened by interviews with Lance's fellow soldiers, and his friends and his family. It was also lucky that Lance was a keen writer, and left plenty of firsthand accounts of the war. This recount shows the courage, loyalty, dedication, respect, honor, integrity and selflessness of Lance, which leads to Lance being awarded a posthumous Medal of Honor.

The story shows the loyalty of this young marine at many points. His loyalty is first presented by joining the Air Force, to help defend his country as much as he could. It is known that he grew a moustache during his tour for a number of reasons - first to show his allegiance to his nation and constitution, and the protest the claims of the enemy that American soldiers were baby killers. His routes trace back to Irish and Serbian heritage, and this in some way can be attributed to his loyalty and strength. For example, he came from a very close and loyal family, and he always acted as an example and teacher for his siblings.

There was never a moment in which Lance did not fulfill his duty, or betray his country. The Code of Conduct for the United States Armed Forces, under section III states that if the soldier is captured by the enemy force, then the soldier will by all means possible resist and make every effort to escape, and to help other US soldiers to escape. After his plane went down in 1967, he stuck by this code and did everything in his power not be caught by the Vietcong and the North Vietnamese Army. He collected his weapons after he parachuted from the plane whilst it was falling to ground, and he prepared himself to face the enemy. He suffered injuries from the fall, and while his rescue alluded him, he kept in a positive spirit, and did not let thoughts of capture dissuade him from the code of conduct. He made his way slowly through the difficult terrain for 40 days but to no avail - he was not rescued but instead caught and captured despite doing his best to hide from the enemy. Upon his capture, he was transported to a temporary location where he was treated medically for his injuries (page 124). While he was being cared for, he made a quick assessment of the situation and his surroundings. He followed his instincts and tried to escape, by knocking out his capture and is able to escape for a time, even with an injured body which included a broken leg and a fractured skull (page 154-157).

Lance was a very respectful person, and this showed in his treatment of his superiors and his family, including his girlfriend at the time Lenora. We are shown throughout this book this respect, along with his bravery, his respect towards Lenora through his persistence and fairness with her. He did not push her into a corner given his position and that he might be going to fight the war, and gave her the choice about where they should live, and what they should do with their lives. Respect is further accounted during his days in the academy. For example, during training he helped his fellow trainees with their luggage when they became exhausted at the end of a long trek. While his superior did not like what Lance did, he still continued to help them, which would in turn help them not be dismissed from the Academy.

One of the best examples of honor and selflessness in the book presents when Lance is unfortunately captured a second time, soon after his unsuccessful escape attempt. He is again badly injured and this time tortured by his captors, though he does not give away any information to the enemy, aside from the information that he is allowed to give, such as his serial number, name and rank in the US Army. His fellow captors Gruters and Craner were inspired by Lance, who neither revealed information while he was beaten and tortured, or likewise any false or misleading information, which is what they both had done. Craner and Gruters tried to get Lance to take part in the farce of Lee and Jackson, but his principles meant that he refused. His want was to prevent the North Vietnamese from gaining any kind of information that could put the welfare of his Army, Air Force, or country in any kind of danger, and he also tried to dissuade Craner and Gruters from providing false information.

These recollections show how much morality and integrity is inherent in Lance Sijan. This began at an early age for him, and there are accounts of such things in the book from his high school years. He was practically the perfect student, who strived to achieve excellent grades, attended as many extra-curricular activities he could manage, and was a model athlete. However, Sijan was not a natural wonder boy and needed to work hard to maintain his excellent record. This was such that he ended up restricting sleep for himself, as opposed to letting himself slip, cheating, or reducing his responsibilities. He eventually made the right decision after seeking help, and decided to stop doing one of his sports, even though he worked extra hard to get into the senior varsity team to follow from high school.

Before his capture during the war, he lived off the land for quite a while. Before he was able to find fresh water, he lived off rainwater, the water that collected in ferns and leeches that sucked his blood. Despite his malnutrition, his injuries and onset of pneumonia, he focused on avoiding capture with an intent that few other soldiers could barely contemplate. Not only that, but his courage was infectious and rubbed off on others helping them to be better soldiers an people. In his company, Craner and Gruters were able to start being courageous and strong like Lance, and this helped them to survive their capture.

All in all, Lance Sijan was an exemplary human being, and stuck to the highest moral codes, in both his private and professional lives. In most men who are morally upright, there will be some weakness present somewhere, though this simply cannot be said with Sijan. After his captivity with Gruters and Craner, and suffering from disease, malnutrition and exhaustion, he was transported to Hanoi, where he eventually died in Hoa Lo Prison. He was awarded the Medal of Honor after recommendation from the surviving Colonel Craner, and this reward reflects the unbreakable courage and character of this unforgettable man.

Bibliography

McConnell, Malcom. Into the Mouth of the Cat: The Story of Lance Sijan, Hero of Vietnam, New

York, NY: W.W. Norton & Company, 1985.