U.S. Navy Hero, Medal of Honor Man, POW Honored

By Naval Academy Public Affairs

The U.S. Naval Academy dedicated a bronze statue of former Vietnam prisoner of war and Medal of Honor recipient Vice Adm. James B. Stockdale, Oct. 31, with the Secretary of the Navy, the Honorable David C. Winter as keynote speaker.

“It would be difficult to imagine a better example of leadership, courage and moral excellence than the example set by Vice Adm. James Stockdale,” said Winter.

Stockdale, a native of Abingdon, Ill., graduated from the Naval Academy in 1947. On Sept. 9, 1965, Stockdale was the commanding officer of Carrier Air Group Commander 16 (CAG-16). He catapulted from the deck of USS Oriskany (CV/CVA-34) for a strike mission over North Vietnam. While returning from the target area, Stockdale’s A-4 Skyhawk was hit by anti-aircraft fire. He ejected, breaking a bone in his back, and upon landing in a small village, he badly dislocated his knee. His injuries went untreated and eventually left him with a fused knee joint and a very distinctive gait.

Stockdale was held in the infamous “Hanoi Hilton,” where he spent seven years as the highest ranking naval officer and leader of American resistance against North Vietnamese attempts to use prisoners for propaganda purposes. Despite being kept in solitary confinement for four years, in leg irons for two years, physically tortured more than 15 times, denied medical care, and malnourished, Stockdale organized a system of communication and developed a cohesive set of rules governing prisoner behavior.

“Admiral Stockdale was a great leader who built others up and never put them down,” said Ross Perot, a friend of Stockdale and a Class of 1953 Naval Academy graduate who donated the statue.

Stockdale was awarded the Medal of Honor by President Gerald Ford in 1976. A highly decorated naval officer, he wore 26 personal combat decorations, including two Distinguished Flying Crosses, three Distinguished Service Medals, two Purple Hearts, and four Silver Star medals in addition to the Medal of Honor.

James Stockdale Formal Portait.jpg

“Nobody wins the Medal of Honor. They earn it. He earned it the hard way,” said Perot, who selected Stockdale as his running mate during the 1992 presidential campaign. “He earned the Medal of Honor for his leadership by example and setting high standards for all the others who served with him in prison.”

Stockdale retired from the Navy in 1978 after serving as the president of the Naval War College. In 1979, the Secretary of the Navy established the Vice Admiral Stockdale Award for Inspirational Leadership, presented annually in both the Pacific and Atlantic fleets.

In 1998, the Secretary of the Navy authorized the founding of the Center for the Study of Professional Military Ethics at the U.S. Naval Academy, later renamed the Vice Admiral James B. Stockdale Center for Ethical Leadership, with a mission “to promote and enhance the ethical development of current and future military leaders through education, research and reflection.”

Stockdale, a member of the Navy’s Carrier Hall of Fame, was the only vice admiral in the history of the Navy to wear both aviator wings and the Medal of Honor. In 2001, he was awarded the Naval Academy Alumni Association Distinguished Graduate Award.

“If Admiral Stockdale were here with us today, I believe that it would give him immense pride in seeing this gathering, and knowing that this statue will play a role in guiding and inspiring future leaders in the Navy and Marine Corps,” said Winter.

Stockdale passed away in July 2005 and was laid to rest at the Naval Academy Cemetery. Former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. William Crowe and then Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Mike Mullen delivered the eulogies. In May of this year, USS Stockdale (DDG 106) was christened in his honor.

Stockdale at sea during the war in Vietnam

Admiral Stockdale’s Medal of Honor 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. Rear Adm. Stockdale’s valiant leadership and extraordinary courage in a hostile environment sustain and enhance the finest traditions of the U.S. Naval Service.

Related:
What Kind Of Men Were With John McCain In The Hanoi Hilton? Men of Character….

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