Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Admiral James Stockdale was a Great Man!

Let me start out by saying that I really enjoy reading Wizbang. They bring me up to speed with what is happening faster than any other blog on the internet. With that being said, I have to address a comment made by Paul in his post titled "Blanco is Toast. Game. Set. Match." Paul makes fun of Governor Katherine Blanco by saying When pressed for an answer, Governor Blanco breaks down and has an Admiral Stockdale moment, replying: "I don't even know what day it is."

I read that post before I went to work. As I entered NAS North Island and proceeded to drive to my squadron, I looked to my right and saw the "Admiral Stockdale Building". This is one of two facilities where the U. S. Navy teaches S.E.R.E. (Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape). Many Aviators, Marines, and SEALS learned training to "develop insights and personal resourcefulness to endure, preserve dignity, and exploit every means of relief or escape from hostile captivity, and ensures all students understand their legal rights under the Geneva Conventions and their moral and professional responsibility to the Military Code of Conduct."

In 1992, Admiral James Stockdale paired with Ross Perot to run for President of the United States in the newly formed Reform Party. In a televised debate with Al Gore and Dan Quayle, Admiral Stockdale's opening comments were "Who am I? Why am I here?". At one point, he asked to have a question repeated because he did not have his hearing aid turned up. At the end of the debate Admiral Stockdale made a reference that he felt like a man at a Ping Pong Match, as Gore and Quayle went back and forth as he watched.

I have to say that if this is all I knew about Admiral Stockdale, than I would have made those comments too in reference to Governor Blanco. However, there is much more to Admiral James Stockdale than that debate in 1992.

So, why would I start my post on the Admiral James Stockdale Building on NAS North Island? Because Admiral Stockdale is known to me and many other service members as a Medal of Honor recipient, who spent 7 and a half years in a Vietnam prison camp with 4 of those in solitary confinement. Or the man who was flying overhead during the Gulf of Tonkin Incident. During his time a POW, he did numerous things to prevent the Vietnamese from exploiting him. In order to save a little time, I'll just quote

On a mission over North Vietnam on September 9, 1965, Stockdale ejected from his A-4E Skyhawk, which had been disabled from anti-aircraft fire. Stockdale parachuted into a small village, where he was severely beaten and taken into custody.

He 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, Stockdale beat himself with a stool until his face was swollen beyond recognition. He told them in no uncertain terms that they would never use him. When Stockdale heard that other prisoners were dying under the torture, he slit his wrists and told them that he preferred death to submission.

Little did Stockdale know that the actions of his wife, Mrs. Sybil Stockdale, had a tremendous impact on how the North Vietnamese reacted to these acts of self-mutilation in 1969. Early in her husband's captivity she organized The League of American Families of POW's and MIA's, with other wives of servicemen who were in similar circumstance. By 1968 she and her organization, which called for the President and the U.S. Congress to publicly acknowledge the mistreatment of the POW's (something that they had never done even though they had evidence of gross mistreatment), was finally getting the attention of the American press and consequently the attention of the North Vietnamese. Mrs. Stockdale personally made these demands known at The Paris Peace Talks and private comments made to her by the head of the Vietnamese delegation there indicated concern that her organization might catch the attention of the American public, something the North Vietnamese knew could turn the tide against them. The result couldn't have been more fortunate for James Stockdale at the very time he slit his wrists. the Vietnamese now understood that they had no choice but to end their program of brutal torture or else they would be exposed internationally for their gross acts of cruelty, something that would completely derail their propaganda program which had been so successful convinced the American press and public that the prisoners were well treated.

Stockdale was released as a prisoner of war in 1973.

His shoulders had been wrenched from their sockets, his leg shattered by angry villagers and a torturer, and his back broken. But he had refused to capitulate.

So, I ask everyone to remember Admiral James Stockdale as the Medal of Honor recipient, the man almost beaten to death in Vietnam defending our country, and who would go to great lengths to disfigure himself so he would not be exploited by the enemy and more than the man who said "Why am I here?" in national television.


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