Name:  John William Armstrong 
Rank/Branch: Colonel /US Air Force 
Unit:  480th Tactical Fighter Squadron 
366th Tactical Fighter Wing
DaNang Airbase, South Vietnam 

Date of Birth: 05 December 1926 
Home of Record: Dallas, TX 
Date of Loss: 09 November 1967 
Country of Loss:  Laos
Loss Coordinates:  171500N 1060800E (XE215072)
Click coordinates to view (4) maps
Status in 1973: Missing In Action 
Category: 2
Aircraft/Vehicle/Ground:  F4C "Phantom II"
Other Personnel in Incident: Lance P. Sijan (Died in Captivity, Remains returned)


SYNOPSIS:   The McDonnell F4 Phantom used by Air Force, Marine and Navy air wings served a multitude of functions including fighter/bomber, interceptor, photo/electronic surveillance, and reconnaissance. The two man aircraft was extremely fast (Mach 2) and had a long range, 900 - 2300 miles depending on stores and mission type. The F4 was also extremely maneuverable and handled well at low and high altitudes. It was selected for a number of state-of-the-art electronics conversions, which improved radar intercept and computer bombing capabilities enormously. Most pilots considered it one of the "hottest" planes around.

Then 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.

Fighter pilots were called upon to fly in many dangerous circumstances, and they were prepared to be wounded, killed or captured. It probably never occurred to them that they could be abandoned by the country they so proudly served.