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About James Bond Stockdale
The President of the United States of America, in the name of Congress, takes pleasure in presenting the Medal of Honor to Rear Admiral James Bond Stockdale (NSN: 0-485624), United States Navy, for conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty while Senior Naval Officer in the Prisoner of War camps of North Vietnam on 4 September 1969. Recognized by his captors as the leader in the Prisoners' of War resistance to interrogation and in their refusal to participate in propaganda exploitation, Rear Admiral Stockdale was singled out for interrogation and attendant torture after he was detected in a covert communications attempt. Sensing the start of another purge, and aware that his earlier efforts at self-disfiguration to dissuade his captors from exploiting him for propaganda purposes had resulted in cruel and agonizing punishment, Rear Admiral Stockdale resolved to make himself a symbol of resistance regardless of personal sacrifice. He deliberately inflicted a near-mortal wound to his person in order to convince his captors of his willingness to give up his life rather than capitulate. He was subsequently discovered and revived by the North Vietnamese who, convinced of his indomitable spirit, abated in their employment of excessive harassment and torture toward all of the Prisoners of War. By his heroic action, at great peril to himself, he earned the everlasting gratitude of his fellow prisoners and of his country. Rear Admiral Stockdale's valiant leadership and extraordinary courage in a hostile environment sustain and enhance the finest traditions of the U.S. Naval Service.
Action Date: 4-Sep-69
Rank: Rear Admiral
Regiment: Attack Carrier Air Wing 16
Division: U.S.S. Oriskany
Vice Admiral James Bond Stockdale (December 23, 1923 – July 5, 2005) was one of the most highly decorated officers in the history of the United States Navy.
Stockdale led aerial attacks from the carrier USS Ticonderoga (CVA-14) during the 1964 Gulf of Tonkin Incident. On his next deployment, while Commander of Carrier Air Wing 16 aboard the carrier USS Oriskany (CV-34), he was shot down over enemy territory on September 9, 1965.
Stockdale was the highest-ranking naval officer held as a prisoner of war in Vietnam. He was awarded 26 personal combat decorations, including the Medal of Honor and four Silver Stars. During the late 1970s, he served as President of the Naval War College.
Stockdale was candidate for Vice President of the United States in the 1992 presidential election, on Ross Perot's independent ticket.
Early life and career
Stockdale was born in Abingdon, Illinois and, following a brief period at Monmouth College, he entered the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland in 1943. In June 1946 he graduated with the class of 1947 due to the reduced schedule still in effect from World War II). Academically he ranked 130th among 821 graduates in his class.
Shortly after graduating, Stockdale reported to Naval Air Station Pensacola, in Florida, for flight training. In 1954, he was accepted into the United States Naval Test Pilot School at the Naval Air Station Patuxent River base in Southern Maryland. It was there that he tutored a young Marine aviator named John Glenn in math and physics.
In 1959 the Navy sent Stockdale to Stanford University where he received a masters degree in international relations. Stockdale preferred the life of a fighter pilot over academia, but later credited Stoic philosophy with helping him cope as a prisoner of war.
Gulf of Tonkin Incident
Further information: Gulf of Tonkin Incidenthttp://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gulf_of_Tonkin_Incident
On August 2, 1964, while on a DESOTO patrol in the Tonkin Gulf, the destroyer USS Maddox (DD-731) engaged 3 North Vietnamese Navy P-4 torpedo boats from the 135th Torpedo Squadron. After fighting a running gun and torpedo battle, in which the Maddox fired over 280 5-inch shells, and the torpedo boats expended their 6 torpedoes (all misses) and hundreds of rounds of 14.5mm machinegun fire; the combatants broke contact. As the torpedo boats turned for their North Vietnamese coastline, four F-8 Crusader jet fighter bombers from the aircraft carrier USS Ticonderoga (CV-14) arrived, and immediately attacked the retreating torpedo boats.
Stockdale, commanding Fighter Squadron 51 (VF-51), with Lieutenant (Junior Grade) Richard Hastings attacked torpedo boats T-333 and T-336, while Commander R. F. Mohrhardt and Lieutenant Commander C. E. Southwick attacked torpedo boat T-339. The four pilots reported scoring no hits with their Zuni rockets, but reported hits on all three torpedo boats with their 20mm cannons.
Two nights later, on August 4, 1964, Stockdale was overhead during the second reported attack in the Tonkin Gulf. However, unlike the first event, which was an actual sea battle, no Vietnamese forces were believed to have been involved in the second engagement. In the early 1990s, he recounted: "[I] had the best seat in the house to watch that event, and our destroyers were just shooting at phantom targets—there were no PT boats there.... There was nothing there but black water and American fire power." Stockdale said his superiors ordered him to keep quiet about this. He later said that while in captivity, he was concerned that he would be forced to reveal this secret about the Vietnam War.
Prisoner of war
Flying from USS Oriskany on a mission over North Vietnam on September 9, 1965, Stockdale ejected from his A-4E Skyhawk, which had been disabled from friendly fire after the malfunction of his wingman's ordnance. He parachuted into a small village, where he was severely beaten and taken into custody.
Stockdale was held as a prisoner of war in the Hoa Lo prison for the next seven years. Locked in leg irons in a bath stall, he was routinely tortured and beaten. When told by his captors that he was to be paraded in public, Stockdale slit his scalp with a razor to purposely disfigure himself so that his captors could not use him as propaganda. When they covered his head with a hat, he beat himself with a stool until his face was swollen beyond recognition. When Stockdale was discovered with information that could implicate his friends' "black activities", he slit his wrists so they could not torture him into confession.
Early in Stockdale's captivity, his wife, Sybil Stockdale, organized The League of American Families of POWs and MIAs, with other wives of servicemen who were in similar circumstances. By 1968 she and her organization, which called for the President and the U.S. Congress to publicly acknowledge the mistreatment of the POWs (something that had never been done despite evidence of gross mistreatment), was getting the attention of the American press. Sybil Stockdale personally made these demands known at the Paris Peace Talks.
Stockdale was one of about eleven prisoners known as the "Alcatraz Gang": George Thomas Coker, George McKnight, Jeremiah Denton, Harry Jenkins, Sam Johnson, James Mulligan, Howard Rutledge, Robert Shumaker, Ronald Storz and Nels Tanner. These individuals had been leaders of resistance activities while in captivity and thus were separated from other captives and placed in solitary confinement. "Alcatraz" was a special facility in a courtyard behind the North Vietnamese Ministry of National Defense, located about one mile away from Hoa Lo Prison. In Alcatraz, each of the prisoners were kept in individual cells measuring 3 feet by 9 feet with a light bulb kept on around the clock, and they were locked in leg irons each night.
In a business book by James C. Collins called Good to Great, Collins writes about a conversation he had with Stockdale regarding his coping strategy during his period in the Vietnamese POW camp.
"I never lost faith in the end of the story, I never doubted not only that I would get out, but also that I would prevail in the end and turn the experience into the defining event of my life, which, in retrospect, I would not trade."
When Collins asked who didn't make it out of Vietnam, Stockdale replied:
"Oh, that's easy, the optimists. Oh, they were the ones who said, 'We're going to be out by Christmas.' And Christmas would come, and Christmas would go. Then they'd say, 'We're going to be out by Easter.' And Easter would come, and Easter would go. And then Thanksgiving, and then it would be Christmas again. And they died of a broken heart."
Stockdale then added:
"This is a very important lesson. You must never confuse faith that you will prevail in the end—which you can never afford to lose—with the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they might be."
Witnessing this philosophy of duality, Collins went on to describe it as the Stockdale Paradox.
Return to the United States
Stockdale was released as a prisoner of war on February 12, 1973. His shoulders had been wrenched from their sockets, his leg shattered by angry villagers and a torturer, and his back broken.
He received the Medal of Honor in 1976. Stockdale filed charges against two other officers who, he felt, had given aid and comfort to the enemy. However, the Navy Department under the leadership of then-Secretary of the Navy John Warner took no action and retired these men "in the best interests of the Navy."
Debilitated by his captivity and mistreatment, Stockdale could not stand upright and could barely walk upon his return to the United States, which prevented his return to active flying status. In deference to his previous service, the Navy kept him on active duty, steadily promoting him over the next few years before he retired as a vice admiral. He completed his career by serving as President of the Naval War College from October 13, 1977, until August 22, 1979.
Civilian academic career and writings
After his retirement in 1979, he became the President of The Citadel, The Military College of South Carolina. His tenure there was short and stormy as he found himself at odds with the college's board as well as most of its administration, by proposing changes to the college's military system and other facets of the college, including the curbing of student hazing. He left The Citadel to become a fellow of the Hoover Institution at Stanford University in 1981.
During the following two decades, Stockdale wrote a number of books both on his experiences during the Vietnam War and afterwards. In Love and War: the Story of a Family's Ordeal and Sacrifice During the Vietnam War was co-written with his wife Sybil and published in 1984. It includes several letters sent between the couple while he was in captivity. It was later made into an NBC television movie.
Stockdale was a member of the board of directors of the Rockford Institute, and was a frequent contributor to Chronicles: A magazine of American Culture.
Stockdale came to know businessman and presidential candidate H. Ross Perot through his wife's work in establishing an organization to represent the families of Vietnam POWs. On March 30, 1992, Perot announced that he had asked Stockdale to be his provisional Vice Presidential nominee on Ross Perot's 1992 independent ticket. Perot intended to replace Stockdale with another candidate, but did not do so before he dropped out of the race in July 1992.
Perot eventually re-entered the race in the fall of 1992, with Stockdale still in place as the vice-presidential nominee. Stockdale was not informed that he would be participating in the October 13 vice-presidential debate held in Atlanta, Georgia, until a week before the event. He had no formal preparation for the debate, unlike his opponents Al Gore and Dan Quayle, and did not discuss any political issues with Perot beforehand.
Stockdale notably opened the debate by saying, "Who am I? Why am I here?", when responding to a request for an opening statement from debate moderator, Hal Bruno, the political director of ABC News. Bruno had asked Stockdale, "Admiral Stockdale, your opening statement, please, sir?", leading to the now famous response. Initially, the rhetorical questions drew applause from the audience, seeming to be a good-natured acknowledgment of his relatively unknown status and lack of traditional qualifications.
However, his unfocused style for the rest of the debate (including asking the moderator to repeat one question because he didn't have his hearing aid turned on) made him appear confused and almost disoriented. An unflattering recreation of the moment on Saturday Night Live later that week, with Phil Hartman as Stockdale, cemented a public perception of Stockdale as slow-witted. He was also often parodied for his repeated use of the term "gridlock" to describe slow governmental policy.
As his introduction to the large segment of American voters who had not previously heard of him, the debate was disastrous for Stockdale. He was portrayed in the media as elderly and confused, and his reputation never recovered. In a 1999 interview with Jim Lehrer, Stockdale explained that the statements were intended as an introduction of himself and his personal history to the television audience:
It was terribly frustrating because I remember I started with, "Who am I? Why am I here?" and I never got back to that because there was never an opportunity for me to explain my life to people. It was so different from Quayle and Gore. The four years in solitary confinement in Vietnam, seven-and-a-half years in prisons, drop the first bomb that started the ... American bombing raid in the North Vietnam. We blew the oil storage tanks of them off the map. And I never—I couldn't approach—I don't say it just to brag, but, I mean, my sensitivities are completely different.
Perot and Stockdale received 19 percent of the vote in the 1992 presidential election, one of the best showings by an independent ticket in U.S. electoral history, although they did not carry any states.
Final years and legacy
Stockdale retired to Coronado, California, as he slowly succumbed to Alzheimer's disease. He died from the illness on July 5, 2005. Stockdale's funeral service was held at the Naval Academy Chapel and he was buried at the United States Naval Academy Cemetery.
The U.S. Navy has named a number of structures after Stockdale, including the Arleigh Burke–class guided missile destroyer USS Stockdale (DDG-106), christened on May 10, 2008. At Naval Air Station North Island in Coronado, California, the main gate (inaugurated on August 30, 2007) and the headquarters building for the Pacific Fleet's Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape (SERE) school were both named in his honor. In July 2008, a statue of him was erected at Luce Hall at the U.S. Naval Academy; the hall also houses the Vice Admiral James B. Stockdale Center for Ethical Leadership.
A luxury suite at the Loews Annapolis Hotel, where Perot announced his candidacy, was named in Stockdale's honor.
1992 election for U.S. President/Vice President - popular vote share
Clinton/Gore (D), 43.0% (370 Electoral Votes)
Bush/Quayle (R), 37.7% (168 Electoral Votes)
Perot/Stockdale (I), 18.9% (0 Electoral Votes)
Writings by James Stockdale