Leon F. “Lee” Ellis flew 53 F-4C Phantom missions before he was shot down and taken prisoner in North Vietnam. Born on 9 October 1943 in Commerce, Georgia, Ellis graduated from the University of Georgia in 1965 with an Air Force ROTC commission and distinguished graduate honors. Upon completion of pilot training, Ellis received his wings and an assignment to combat training in the F-4C with follow-on orders to Vietnam. His first operational flying was with the 390th Tactical Fighter Squadron at Da Nang Air Base, Vietnam. On 7 November 1967, Ellis’ F-4C was struck multiple times by North Vietnamese anti-aircraft fire while attacking an active AAA site. Although his aircraft had burst into flames, he released his bombs directly on the target, without regard for his personal safety. Following bomb release, his aircraft exploded into three pieces, and he ejected seconds later. Within minutes, Ellis was captured by North Vietnamese forces, beginning an ordeal that would supremely test his faith, patience and strength. For nearly five and one-half years, he was a prisoner of war in the Hoa Lo Prison, the infamous “Hanoi Hilton,” and surrounding camps. Upon his release from prison and repatriation to the United States in March of 1973, Colonel Ellis continued his military career. He regained flight status as a pilot, flight instructor, standardization and evaluation pilot, and squadron commander in the T-38 Talon aircraft. Upon Air War College graduation in 1978, Colonel Ellis served as Vice Commandant of the Squadron Officer School, and he ended his military career as the commander of the Air Force ROTC detachment at the University of Georgia. Colonel Ellis retired in 1990 as a command pilot with decorations including two Silver Stars, two Legions of Merit, a Bronze Star with Valor, three Meritorious Service Medals, a Purple Heart, nine Air Medals, and the Prisoner of War Medal. His experiences as a POW piqued his interest in leadership under difficult circumstances, leading to further research and academic study in the arenas of measuring and optimizing human performance and leadership effectiveness. Motivated by the belief that “our culture desperately needs courageous servant leaders, men and women who have clear vision and strong character, who instill confidence and inspire excellence, who don’t fold under pressure, compromise on principle, or practice deception,” Colonel Ellis founded Leadership Freedom and FreedomStar Media. In this capacity he has served as an executive coach and a corporate consultant in the areas of hiring, teambuilding, leadership development, and succession planning. He has managed the development, validation, and internet deployment of several personality and leadership assessments that have been used by aspiring leaders and Fortune 500 companies alike. Also an avid author and speaker, Colonel Ellis has authored or co-authored four books on leadership and career development to include his award winning book Leading With Honor: Leadership Lessons from the Hanoi Hilton. He and his wife Mary reside in Atlanta, GA and have four children and six grandchildren.
Years Honored: 2015
Aircraft/Specialty: F-4C Phantom II
Lt. "Lee" Ellis streaks over hostile territory with his front-seater, Capt Ken Fischer. Shot down on his 53rd mission over North Vietnam, Ellis and Fischer were hit while flying air power legend Col "Boots" Blesse's aircraft, depicted with four blue "victory stripes."