INTO THE MOUTH OF THE CAT: The Story of Lance Sijan, a Hero of Vietnam by Malcolm McConnell

INTO THE MOUTH OF THE CAT: The Story of Lance Sijan, a Hero of Vietnam

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Lance Sijan, a young Air Force pilot, was on a bombing mission over Laos in 1967 when he ejected from his crippled Phantom above the Ban Loboy Ford--landing deep in mountain jungle with a severely fractured leg and a serious head injury. Over the next 24 hours, as meticulously detailed here, rescue helicopters attempted to determine Sijan's exact location (despite heavy enemy fire)--giving up only when losing radio contact with him. So, determined to avoid enemy capture no-matter-what, Sijan began dragging himself through the jungle--searching for water, eating bugs, repeatedly falling and re-injuring himself, suffering from concussion as well as immense pain. (""He forced open the dry, sour tube of his throat and howled, leaning into the hot agony like some circus daredevil."") He survived this ordeal for 46 days before being captured by the North Vietnamese. Now ""a long skeleton in muddy rags"" with ""raw, bleeding expanses of flesh,"" Sijan nonetheless managed to escape briefly from a holding camp, felling a guard with a skeletal karate chop. Recaptured, delirious and near death, he refused to answer NVA questions while being tortured: ""Clearly the only force that was keeping Sijan's ruined body alive was his indomitable spirit. And that tough, driving spirit was irreversibly bonded to his will to defy and resist the enemy interrogators."" And he finally died--of pneumonia, untreated wounds, and malnutrition--in Hanoi's Hoa Lo Prison in 1968, winning a posthumous Medal of Honor. McConnell, author of novels (Just Causes) and non-fiction (First Crossing), bases much of this reconstruction on the years-later recollections of Sijan's POW comrades--to whom Sijan, amid deliriums, told his story. (McConnell goes on at defensive length about his primary source's ""incredible memory,"" which doesn't have quite the intended, reassuring effect.) Throughout, the reliance on clichÉd rhetoric (""heroic,"" ""astonishing,"" ""incredible"") detracts from the events themselves. Still, though lacking in thoughtfulness or eloquence, this quasi-documentary--commissioned by Reader's Digest--should find a solid, military-exploit readership, along with the POW portions of the Stockdales' recent In Love and War (p. 864).

Pub Date: Nov. 26th, 1984
Publisher: Norton