Admiral James Stockdale died today at age 81. Most people remember Stockdale, if at all, for his performance in the 1992 Vice-Presidential debate with Al Gore and Dan Quayle. At one point Stockdale yielded the floor, confessing that he was “out of ammunition.” Many thought the aging veteran a bit odd. But he was one of this country’s great military heroes. In his forties, he flew more than 200 missions in Vietnam before he was finally shot down and captured. He was the highest ranking Naval officer captured by the North Vietnamese. Stockdale was imprisoned for more than seven years, four of them in solitary confinement, two in leg irons. But while he was imprisoned in the Hanoi Hilton, he became the leader of the American POWs, devised communications systems, and encouraged resistance to the Communists’ propaganda efforts.
For this he was tortured repeatedly. Stockdale was awared the Medal of Honor. His citation reads, in part:
Citation: 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. 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 Adm. 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 Adm. 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.
Admiral Stockdale was a student of Greek philosophy and the author of four books. He returned to the Republican Party after his uncharacteristic venture into public life in 1992. Never has anyone displayed more courage in the service of his country. RIP.
The photo below shows Stockdale a week before he was shot down: