North Vietnam’s treatment of American airmen shot down and captured over North Vietnam was a subject of controversy and concern throughout the Vietnam War. From the very beginning of the war, North Vietnam’s stated position was that American prisoners captured in North Vietnam were “war criminals” who had committed crimes against the North Vietnamese people in the course of an illegal war of aggression and that therefore the American prisoners were not entitled to the privileges and rights granted to prisoners of war (POW) under the terms of the Geneva Convention.  The North Vietnamese refused to provide the International Red Cross with the names of Americans who were being held prisoner in North Vietnam and did not allow regular inspection visits by the International Red Cross to ensure that the prisoners were being treated properly in accordance with the terms of the 1947 Geneva Convention on POWs. 

Thirteen prisons and prison camps were used to house U.S. prisoners in North Vietnam, the most widely known of which was Hỏa Lò Prison (nicknamed the “Hanoi Hilton”). The treatment and ultimate fate of U.S. prisoners of war in Vietnam became a subject of widespread concern in the United States, and hundreds of thousands of Americans wore POW bracelets with the name and capture date of imprisoned U.S. service members.[1]

American POWs in North Vietnam were released in early 1973 as part of Operation Homecoming  the result of diplomatic negotiations concluding U.S. military involvement in Vietnam. On February 12, 1973, the first of 591 U.S. prisoners began to be repatriated, and return flights continued until late March. After Operation Homecoming, the U.S. still listed roughly 1,350 Americans as prisoners of war or missing in action and sought the return of roughly 1,200 Americans reported killed in action, but whose bodies were not recovered.






On Nov. 9, 1967, while on a flight over North Vietnam, Captain Sijan ejected from his disabled aircraft and successfully evaded capture for more than six weeks. During this time, he was seriously injured and suffered from shock and extreme weight loss due to lack of food.

After being captured by North Vietnamese soldiers, Captain Sijan was taken to a holding point for subsequent transfer to a Prisoner of War 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 his interrogation, he was severely tortured; however, he did not divulge any information to his captors. Captain Sijan lapsed into delirium and was placed in the care of another prisoner, Lt. Col. Robert Craner.

During Captain Sijan’s intermittent periods of consciousness until his death, he never complained of his physical condition and, on several occasions, spoke of future escape attempts. Due to his extreme weakness, adverse living conditions, insufficient clothing, and an inadequate diet, Captain Sijan contracted pneumonia on Jan. 18, 1968. Removed from his cell on Jan. 21, 1968, he died at the Hoa Lo prison camp, as reported by his Vietnamese captors. The Medal of Honor was presented to his parents on March 4, 1976, by President Gerald R. Ford.