Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Death of an American Hero

Vice Admiral James Stockdale (Ret.), died Tuesday at the age of 81, the Associated Press reports. Known most recently as the somewhat eccentric running mate of H. Ross Perot in the 1992 presidential campaign, Stockdale served as a Navy fighter pilot during the Vietnam War. He flew 201 missions before being shot down in September of 1965, becoming the highest-ranking American officer captured during the conflict.

Stockdale spent seven and a half years in North Vietnamese prisons, four of them in solitary, before his release in 1973. He was tortured repeatedly, and eventually received 26 combat medals for his service. The AP obituary quotes a portion of his Medal of Honor citation: "Stockdale ... 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 their employment of excessive harassment and torture of all prisoners of war."

The Olympian adds that during his long imprisonment, Stockdale "organized the prisoner culture in defiance of regulations forbidding prisoner communication and improvised a cohesive set of rules governing prisoner behavior. Codified in the acronym, BACK U.S. (Unity over Self), these rules gave prisoners a sense of hope, which many credited with giving them the strength to endure their ordeal."

Navy Secretary Gordon England: "Vice Adm. Jim Stockdale's legendary leadership and heroic service to the cause of freedom has been an inspiration to our nation. His courage and life stand as timeless examples of the power of faith and the strength of the human spirit. Our thoughts are with his devoted family. America and our Navy are eternally grateful and will always remember him."

Chief of Naval Operations Vern Clark: "Our Navy is saddened by the loss of Vice Adm. James B. Stockdale, a giant among heroes and a patriarch of ethical leadership. Adm. Stockdale challenged the human limits of moral courage, physical endurance and intellectual bravery, emerging victorious as a legendary beacon for all to follow. Our thoughts and prayers are with Sybil, his devoted partner in love and life, and the rest of the Stockdale family."

Stockdale will be buried with full military honors at the Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland on July 23. You can read more about Admiral Stockdale on his official website. There are very few true heroes that we can look to today for strength and inspiration. Stockdale was always one of those few, to his very core.

[Update: Questions and Observations has Stockdale's full Medal of Honor citation up. The New York Times' obituary for Stockdale is also online. -- 6 July, 12:10 a.m.]

[Update: The Los Angeles Times obituary for Stockdale includes a quote from Senator John McCain, who was in Vietnamese prisoner of war at the same time as Stockdale. McCain calls Stockdale "one of the bravest men I've ever known. His leadership inspired us to do better than we ever thought we could." -- 6 July, 7:38 a.m.]


At 10:39 PM, Blogger syljean said...

You did a beautiful thing in reminding the world of a great man

At 11:37 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I spent some time with Admiral Stockdale when he was a vice presidential candidate. There was no mistaking that one was in the presence of a great man.

At 2:02 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey, my name's Sara (AIM: PetTheJudas). Thanks for remembering Stock. He's one of my heroes and I'm still choking up. He was a great man.


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