John William Armstrong

5 December 1926 – ????

armstrongThen Lt. Col. John W. Armstrong was the Commander of the 480th Tactical Fighter Squadron based at DaNang Airbase, South Vietnam.

On 9 November 1967, Lt. Col. Armstrong, pilot; and Capt. Lance P. Sijan, co-pilot; comprised the crew of an F4C, call sign “AWOL 01,” that departed their base as the lead aircraft in a flight of two. They were on a Forward Air Control (FAC)/strike mission against enemy targets along a portion of the infamous Ho Chi Minh Trail located in extremely rugged jungle covered mountains approximately 35 miles southwest of Dong Hoi, North Vietnam; 3 miles northwest of Ban Loboy and 5 miles southwest of the Lao/North Vietnamese border, Khammouan Province, Laos.

This area of eastern Laos was considered a major artery of the infamous Ho Chi Minh Trail. When North Vietnam began to increase its military strength in South Vietnam, NVA and Viet Cong troops again intruded on neutral Laos for sanctuary, as the Viet Minh had done during the war with the French some years before. This border road was used by the Communists to transport weapons, supplies and troops from North Vietnam into South Vietnam, and was frequently no more than a path cut through the jungle covered mountains. US forces used all assets available to them to stop this flow of men and supplies from moving south into the war zone.

At 2045 hours, on the second pass over the target, the aircraft was hit by hostile fire, was seen to burst into flames and began to climb to approximately 10,000 feet, then rapidly descend and crash into the dense jungle below. No parachutes were seen in the darkness and no emergency beepers heard. Search and rescue (SAR) efforts were immediately initiated and voice contact was established with Lance Sijan almost immediately. No contact could be established with Lt. Col. Armstrong.

Because of heavy enemy activity around the crash site, SAR personnel were unable to reach Capt. Sijan and were unable to locate any sign of Lt. Col. Armstrong. At the time formal search efforts were terminated, both John Armstrong and Lance Sijan were listed Missing in Action.

Lance Sijan was badly injured in his low-level bailout from the damaged Phantom. Even with his extensive injuries, he was able to evade capture for 45 days. North Vietnamese troops found him on Christmas Day lying unconscious next to the road that had been their target and only 3 miles from where he had been shot down. He died in captivity on 22 January 1968 – approximately 8 days after reaching Hanoi and two weeks after being captured.

On 13 March 1974, Lance Sijan’s remains, along with the headstone used to mark his grave in North Vietnam, were returned to the United States. Further, Lance Peter Sijan was awarded this nation’s highest decoration for valor, the Congressional Medal of Honor, for his fierce resistance during interrogation and determination to resist his captures and escape captivity in spite of his emaciated and crippled condition. Before his death, Capt. Sijan was held in a cell with two other Americans. He recounted the circumstances surrounding their shootdown to them, but unfortunately, he could shed no light on the fate of Lt. Col. John Armstrong before he died.

The National Security Agency (NSA), however, intercepted enemy radio transmissions and correlated information which confirmed that John Armstrong, who would be a price catch for the communists because of his background and position, was known captured alive in Laos. According to these reports, NSA documented that he was interviewed by a Soviet war correspondent.

Much later, a Pathet Lao defector, who claimed to have been a prison camp guard, stated that in 1977 he had been guarding several Americans. According to his report, one was named “Armstrong”. However, the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) states they place no validity in this report.

While the fate of Lance Sijan is resolved and his family and friends have the peace of mind of knowing where their loved one now lies, for John Armstrong his fate could be quite different. He is one of nearly 600 Americans who disappeared in Laos. Many of these men were known to be alive on the ground. The Laotians admitted holding “tens of tens” of American Prisoners of War, but these men were never negotiated for either by direct negotiation between our countries or through the Paris Peace Accords which ended the War in Vietnam since Laos was not a party to that agreement.

Since the end of the Vietnam War well over 21,000 reports of American prisoners, missing and otherwise unaccounted for have been received by our government. Many of these reports document LIVE America Prisoners of War remaining captive throughout Southeast Asia TODAY.

BIOGRAPHY (from the website of John W. Armstrong Elementary School in Garland, Texas):

“Born in 1926, John William Armstrong was a native of Garland, Texas. He entered first grade at Garland Elementary School and graduated from Garland High School as valedictorian of the class of 1944.

Known to his friends as Bill, he was a social, academic and sports leader at GHS. He served as class president for three years, edited the Owl’s Nest yearbook, won the school leadership award, and was elected most popular boy. Bill participated in every team sport offered at the school, and lettered in them all. Most notably, he co-captained the undefeated 1943 regional championship football team.

Earning a scholarship to SMU, Bill attended that university for a year, where he played football and made the Phi Eta Sigma scholarship fraternity. During that year, he earned an appointment to the U.S. Military Academy.

He entered West Point in summer of 1945 as a member of the class of 1949. Bill continued his stellar academic career as a cadet at West Point, earning “Dean’s List” status for four years, serving as Cadet Captain, participating in intramural and varsity sports, and graduating 16th in a class of 574. He was the first Garland native to enter and graduate from the prestigious academy.

After graduation, Bill embarked on a career as Air Force fighter pilot. At the start of the Korean War, his unit was assigned to the combat area. While a standard “tour of duty” for a fighter pilot was 100 missions, Bill voluntarily flew 127 before returning to the U.S. He was awarded Air Medals and the Distinguished Flying Cross. Following flying assignments in the United States, he served on the faculty at West Point for four years in the Military Psychology and Leadership Department.

Bill’s last military assignment was to DaNang Air Base in Vietnam as Commander of the 480th Tactical Fighter Squadron.”