Leon F. "Lee" Ellis

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Leon Francis Ellis, Jr.
Lee Ellis - Formal Photo 2 Med.jpg
Born (1943-10-09) October 9, 1943 (age 75)
Commerce, Georgia
AllegianceUnited States
Service/branchSeal of the United States Department of the Air Force.svg United States Air Force
Years of service1965–1990
RankUS-O6 insignia.svg Colonel
Unit366th Tactical Fighter Wing
Commands held560th Flying Training Squadron
USAF ROTC Detachment University of Georgia
Battles/warsVietnam War
AwardsSilver Star Medal ribbon.svg Silver Star (2)
Legion of Merit ribbon.svg Legion of Merit (2)
Bronze Star Medal ribbon.svg Bronze Star (2)
Purple Heart ribbon.svg Purple Heart
Meritorious Service Medal ribbon.svg Meritorious Service Medal (4)
Air Medal ribbon.svg Air Medal (9)
RelationsMary Ellis (Wife)
Patrick, Kristy, Lance and Meredith (Children)
Other workFounder and President of Leadership Freedom LLC and FreedomStar Media

Leon F. "Lee" Ellis (born October 9, 1943) is a retired United States Air Force Colonel, award-winning author, speaker, and consultant.[1] Ellis gained notoriety when, as a fighter pilot in the Vietnam War, he was shot down, captured, and spent 5 ½ years as a prisoner of war in Hanoi and surrounding areas with former Presidential candidate and Senator John McCain (R-AZ) and others.[2] His capture occurred on November 7, 1967, and he was released on March 14, 1973.[3] He was one of the youngest, junior members in the camps.[2] Ellis is an international speaker and consultant on the subjects of leadership and human performance, organizational integrity, operational effectiveness, and personal accountability. He frequently consults with various organizations—from small businesses to Fortune 500 organizations on these subjects.[4] Ellis’ latest book, Engage with Honor: Building a Culture of Courageous Accountability published in 2016 and his last award-winning book, Leading with Honor: Leadership Lessons from the Hanoi Hilton published in 2012, shares his POW experience and the leadership principles that helped him and his compatriots resist, survive, and return with honor.[5] His previous book, Leading Talents, Leading Teams, was published by Northfield Publishing and shares in-depth team concepts on how to lead and manage based on individual, innate gifts and talents. Additionally, Lee co-authored three books and workbooks on career planning.[6]

Early life[edit]

Ellis was born in Commerce, Georgia, to Leon and Molene Ellis. His father was a food service manager at the University of Georgia, and his mother was a middle school science teacher. He has one brother, Robert Ellis. Ellis had early memories of being interested in airplanes and flying. He recalls a moment at 5-years old when he climbed on a World War II airplane in a local park and told his parents this is what he wanted to do when he grew up.[7] His parents encouraged his early interest in flying. He went to Ila Elementary and Commerce High School; and though he maintained good grades, he admittedly was not a disciplined student. He lettered in multiple sports including football, basketball, and baseball and was a good athlete.

After high school, Ellis attended the University of Georgia in Athens and enrolled in Air Force ROTC. He graduated with a B.A. degree in History while pursuing his passion for a military aviation career. Upon graduation from the University of Georgia in 1965, he was selected as a Distinguished Graduate of AFROTC and was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in the United States Air Force.

Military Service[edit]

Ellis entered pilot training program at Moody Air Force Base, Valdosta, Georgia. Fifty-three weeks later he received his Wings and an assignment to combat training in the F-4C Phantom fighter bomber with follow-on orders to Vietnam.[8] In addition to his academic achievements mentioned above, Ellis also earned graduated from the Armed Forces Staff College and the Air War College, and earned a Master of Science Degree in Counseling and Human Development from Troy University in Montgomery, Alabama.[8]

POW Experience[edit]

After arriving in Vietnam, Ellis was assigned to execute bombing raids in North Vietnam, one of the heaviest guarded regions of the country. On his 53rd mission, he and aircraft commander, Captain Ken Fisher, received serious damage to their F-4C Phantom aircraft. Both men had to eject from the fighter jet and were immediately captured on the ground when they landed with their parachutes.[9] After two weeks of traveling through various regions in a Vietnamese military vehicle, they arrived at the Hoa Loa Prison in Hanoi, Vietnam (also known as the Hanoi Hilton). Hoa Loa was an old French Bastille prison fortified strongly to keep prisoners from escaping. For the next 9 months, Lee and three other comrades shared 6'x7.5' cell.

Over the next 5 ½ years, Ellis' described his POW experience as "moments of boredom interrupted by stark moments of terror." In addition to physically torturing prisoners for information, the prison would broadcast anti-American propaganda several times a day throughout the entire camp as a means of breaking their spirit and confidence. Ellis and his comrades began using several forms of subversive communication to stay in touch with each other without being caught. Ellis became one of the key communicators in the camps using a tap code system used by American World War II POWs in Germany. (This was also highlighted in Arthur Koestler's book about the Soviet Gulags, Darkness at Noon). The code uses a 5x5 matrix composed of the 26 letters of the alphabet, with K and C being the same tap code. For example, the word "Hi" would two taps, then three taps for "H"; and two taps, then four taps for "I". The POWs tapped letters and words through the thick walls to form messages that each cell would pass along to the next.

Some of Ellis' fellow senior ranking officers in the camps were Colonel Robbie Risner USAF, CAPT Jeremiah Denton USN, and CAPT Jim Stockdale USN. In the prison camps, frequently the senior-ranking officers received the first and most harsh treatment in an effort to obtain propaganda and information. Much of the torture abuse was aimed at discouraging the senior officers from carrying out leadership duties.

Prisoners of war were released from the camps in order of capture through Operation Homecoming. On March 14, 1973, Lee and several comrades, include Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), were flown from Vietnam to Clark Air Base, Philippines.[3] From there, Ellis and others eventually landed at Maxwell Air Force Base in Montgomery, Alabama where he was reunited with his family. Ellis was single at the time of his capture.

Later career[edit]

After repatriation he returned to flying duties with increasing positions of leadership. Rising to the rank of colonel before retirement, Ellis's assignments included duty as a pilot, flight instructor, staff officer, chief of flight standardization and evaluation, flying squadron commander, and supervisor in higher education. He supervised, educated, and trained officers for the last 17 years of his U.S. Air Force career. Ellis served as the Vice Commandant of the Squadron Officer School, the Air Force's leadership school for captains. He completed his Air Force career as Professor of Aerospace Studies and Commander of Air Force ROTC at the University of Georgia, retiring with almost twenty-five years of service.

Awards and Decorations[edit]

Ellis is a command pilot whose decorations include the Silver Star with one Oak Leaf Cluster; the Legion of Merit with one Oak Leaf Cluster; the Bronze Star with Valor Device; the Meritorious Service Medal with two Oak Leaf Clusters; the Purple Heart; the Air Medal with eight Oak Leaf Clusters; and the Prisoner of War Medal. In addition, he was awarded four Air Force Commendation Medals and four Meritorious Service Medals for performance excellence.[10] He retired after 24 years of service with the rank of colonel. He was selected in 1975 as the Air Force nominee for the U.S. Junior Chamber of Commerce's "Ten Outstanding Men of the Year" Award.

COMMAND PILOT WINGS.png  Command Pilot Badge
Bronze oak leaf cluster
Silver Star with bronze oak leaf cluster
Bronze oak leaf cluster
Legion of Merit with bronze oak leaf cluster
Bronze oak leaf cluster
Width-44 scarlet ribbon with width-4 ultramarine blue stripe at center, surrounded by width-1 white stripes. Width-1 white stripes are at the edges.
Bronze Star Medal with bronze oak leaf clusters with 'V' device
Width-44 purple ribbon with width-4 white stripes on the borders Purple Heart
Bronze oak leaf cluster
Bronze oak leaf cluster
Bronze oak leaf cluster
Meritorious Service Medal with three bronze oak leaf clusters
Silver oak leaf cluster
Bronze oak leaf cluster
Bronze oak leaf cluster
Bronze oak leaf cluster
Air Medal with silver and three oak leaf clusters
Air Force Commendation Medal
Air Force Presidential Unit Citation
Bronze oak leaf cluster
Bronze oak leaf cluster
Bronze oak leaf cluster
Air Force Outstanding Unit Award with three oak leaf clusters and 'V' Device
Air Force Outstanding Unit Award (second ribbon required for accouterment spacing)
Prisoner of War Medal
National Defense Service Medal
Silver star
Bronze star
Bronze star
Bronze star
Vietnam Service Medal with silver and three bronze campaign stars
Silver oak leaf cluster
Air Force Overseas Short Tour Service Ribbon with silver oak leaf cluster
Silver oak leaf cluster
Air Force Longevity Service Award with silver oak leaf cluster
Small Arms Expert Marksmanship Ribbon
Air Force Training Ribbon
Vietnam gallantry cross unit award-3d.svg Vietnam Gallantry Cross Unit Citation
Vietnam Campaign Medal ribbon with 60- clasp.svg Vietnam Campaign Medal

Post-military career[edit]

Based on Ellis' previous education and experience with behavioral assessment and human development, he accepted the role as Director of Career/Life Pathways from 1990 – 1998. He led the development team that researched, developed, and validated Career Direct®, a vocational assessment package and two personality assessments with software applications.[11] From 1998 – 2008, he was responsible for product development of three more behavioral and leadership assessments as well as the launch and Internet deployment of these resources through a previously co-owned company, RightPath Resources.[12] He has also developed and released his latest assessment tool, the N8Traits™ Profile. In total, these assessments have been used by more than 200,000 individuals and are the instrument of choice in many organizations, including Fortune 500 companies and nationally recognized not-for-profits.[13] As an author during this period, Ellis has also written two books - Leading with Honor: Leadership Lessons from the Hanoi Hilton, published by his own publishing company, FreedomStar Media™; it has won several awards including a winner in the 2012 International Book Awards in the Business and Management category;[14] 2012 Indie Excellence Awards winner in the Leadership category;[15] 2012 ForeWord Reviews Book of the Year Finalist in the Business and Economics category;[16] and inclusion in the 2013 U.S. Air Force Chief of Staff Reading List.[17] Leading Talents, Leading Teams, published by Northfield Publishing, was written in 2003.[18] He has also co-authored three books and workbooks on career planning with Crown Financial Ministries' co-founder, Larry Burkett.[19] In 2008, Ellis founded a new company, Leadership Freedom® LLC that develops and presents leadership curricula and training focusing on management performance, leadership accountability and principle-based management strategies. In 2011, he founded FreedomStar Media™, a publishing company that provides leadership resources and training.

Ellis is also a keynote speaker and media guest throughout the world on these topics.

Personal life[edit]

Ellis and his wife Mary have four grown children and six grandchildren. They reside in the metro area of Atlanta, Georgia.


  1. ^ Lee Ellis Biography, October 2, 2013. Retrieved 2013-10-2
  2. ^ a b Hanton, Tom. http://www.nampows.org/nampowslist.html. Retrieved 12 August 2013. Missing or empty |title= (help)
  3. ^ a b "Lee Ellis Military Biography". POW Network. Retrieved 12 August 2013.
  4. ^ Ellis, Lee. "Leadership Freedom LLC Website". Retrieved 12 August 2013.
  5. ^ "Good Reads Book Profile". Good Reads. Retrieved 12 August 2013.
  6. ^ "Northfield Publishing Biography Page". Northfield Publishing. Retrieved 12 August 2013.
  7. ^ Le Jeune, Judy. "County Line Magazine" (PDF). County Line Magazine. Retrieved 12 August 2013.
  8. ^ a b Ellis, Lee. http://www.leeellis.us/lee-ellis. Retrieved 12 August 2013. Missing or empty |title= (help)
  9. ^ "Veteran Tributes Website Biography Page". Veterans Tributes Website. Retrieved 12 August 2013.
  10. ^ "Military Times Hall of Valor". Military Times. Retrieved 12 August 2013.
  11. ^ "Career Direct Development Website". Career Direct/Crown Financial Ministries. Retrieved 12 August 2013.
  12. ^ Hugh, Massie. "DNA Behavior Biography for Lee Ellis". DNA Behavior. Retrieved 12 August 2013.
  13. ^ "Career Direct Summary Page - Assessments Sold". Career Direct/Crown Financial Ministries. Retrieved 12 August 2013.
  14. ^ "International Book Awards - 2012 Award Recipients". International Book Awards. Retrieved 12 August 2013.
  15. ^ "The National Indie Excellence Book Awards - 2012 Recipients". The National Indie Excellence Awards. Retrieved 12 August 2013.
  16. ^ "ForeWord Reviews Book of the Year Awards - 2012 Recipients". ForeWord Reviews. Retrieved 12 August 2013.
  17. ^ "U.S. Air Force Chief of Staff Reading List - 2013 Recipients". U.S. Air Force. Retrieved 12 August 2013.
  18. ^ "Good Reads Profile Page - Leading Talents, Leading Teams". Good Reads. Retrieved 12 August 2013.
  19. ^ "Northfield Publishers - Author Biography Page". Northfield Publishers. Retrieved 12 August 2013.

External links[edit]