James Bond Stockdale

James Bond Stockdale


Retired Vice Admiral James Stockdale, a Hoover Institution fellow from 1981 to 1996, Ross Perot's 1992 presidential running mate, and a recipient of the Medal of Honor after enduring seven and a half years as a prisoner of war in North Vietnam, died Tuesday, July 5, at his home in Coronado, California. He was 81.

The navy, which announced Stockdale's death, did not provide a cause but said he had been suffering from Alzheimer's disease.

Shot down on September 9, 1965, while on a mission over North Vietnam, Stockdale was taken to Hoa Lo Prison, the "Hanoi Hilton." His shoulders were wrenched from their sockets, his leg shattered by angry villagers and a torturer, and his back broken. But he refused to capitulate.

Rather than allow himself to be used in a propaganda film, Stockdale smashed his face into a pulp with a mahogany stool. "My only hope was to disfigure myself," Stockdale wrote in his 1984 autobiography, In Love and War. The ploy worked, but he spent the next two years in leg irons. After Ho Chi Minh's death, he broke a glass pane in an interrogation room and slashed his wrists until he passed out in his own blood. His captors then relented in their harsh treatment of him and his fellow prisoners. His efforts to keep the enemy from using him for their purposes won him the Medal of Honor.

Born in Abingdon, Illinois, Stockdale graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy in 1946 and married his wife, Sybil, the following year. In the early 1960s, the navy sent him for a master's degree at Stanford University, where he became enamored of the Greek stoic philosophers who helped sustain him in his ordeals later in life.

During the Vietnam War, he was a navy fighter pilot based on the USS Oriskany and flew 201 missions before he was shot down in his A4. He became the highest-ranking naval officer captured during the war, according to the navy.

Stockdale received 26 combat decorations, including the Medal of Honor, the nation's highest medal for valor, in 1976. The citation on the medal reads, "By his heroic action at great peril to himself, he earned the everlasting gratitude of his fellow prisoners and of his country."

He had the distinction of being the only three-star officer in the history of the navy to wear both aviator wings and the Medal of Honor. Among his other combat decorations were two Distinguished Flying Crosses, three Distinguished Service Medals, four Silver Star Medals, and two Purple Hearts.

Stockdale retired from the military in 1979 to become president of the Citadel, a military college in South Carolina. He left in 1981 to become a senior research fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford.

At Hoover, he continued his work on the Greek philosophers and was the author of three works published by Hoover Institution Press: Thoughts of a Philosophical Fighter Pilot (1995), A Vietnam Experience: Ten Years of Reflection (1984), and Courage under Fire: Testing Epictetus's Doctrines in a Laboratory of Human Behavior (Hoover Institution Essays, No. 6, 1993).

A Vietnam Experience won the 1985 Freedoms Foundation at Valley Forge Honor Prize for Books.

He also was the subject of Stockdale Triumphs: A Return to Vietnam, a documentary about his first trip back to Vietnam in 1994. The film, which was produced by Catherine O'Brien of Stanford Video Media Group, received a Telly Award in the history/biography category.

He and his wife, Sybil, were the coauthors of In Love and War (Harper and Row, 1984; 2nd edition: Naval Institute Press, 1990). In early 1987, an NBC television movie version of the book was viewed by more than 45 million Americans.

Stockdale came to know Ross Perot through Sybil Stockdale's work establishing an organization on behalf of families of prisoners held during the Vietnam War. He said he decided to run as Perot's running mate to repay his debt to Perot, who had worked to help free POWs in Vietnam.

Stockdale's Coronado home, outside San Diego, where he lived since 1963, has been designated a city landmark.

Survivors include his wife, four sons, James of Beaver, Pennsylvania; Sidney of Albuquerque; Stanford of Denver; and Taylor of Claremont, California, and eight grandchildren.

He will be honored July 16 aboard the carrier Ronald Reagan at North Island Naval Air Station in Coronado. Burial will be at the Naval Academy on July 23.

With material from the Associated Press, San Francisco Chronicle, and Los Angeles Times

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Recent Commentary

Thoughts of a Philosophical Fighter Pilot

by James Bond Stockdalevia Hoover Digest
Tuesday, January 30, 1996

Congressional Medal of Honor winner and Hoover fellow James Bond Stockdale reflects on the highest ideals of the ancient Greeks and the unlikely way in which he encountered those ideals--during his seven years of confinement and torture in a North Vietnamese prison.

COURAGE UNDER FIRE: Testing Epictetus's Doctrines in a Laboratory of Human Behavior

by James Bond Stockdalevia Analysis
Saturday, March 13, 1993

Vice-Admiral Stockdale was on active duty in the regular navy for thirty-seven years. As a fighter pilot aboard an aircraft carrier, Stockdale was shot down on his second combat tour over North Vietnam. As the senior naval prisoner of war officer in Hanoi for eight years, he was tortured fifteen times, put in leg irons for two years, and put in solitary confinement for four years.

During his naval career, his shore duty consisted of three years as a test pilot and test pilot instructor at Patuxent River, Maryland; two years as a graduate student at Stanford University; one year in the Pentagon; and, finally, two years as president of the Naval War College in Newport, Rhode Island.

When physical disability from combat wounds brought about Jim Stockdale’s early retirement from military life, he had the distinction of being the only three-star officer in the history of the navy to wear both aviator wings and the Congressional Medal of Honor (CMH). Besides the CMH, his twenty-six combat decorations include two Distinguished Flying Crosses, three Distinguished Service Medals, four Silver Star Medals, and two Purple Hearts.

As a civilian, Jim Stockdale was a college professor, a college president, and a senior research fellow at the Hoover Institution. His writings have been many and varied, but all converge on the central theme of how man can rise with dignity to prevail in the face of adversity.


A Vietnam Experience: Ten Years of Reflection

by James Bond Stockdalevia Hoover Institution Press
Thursday, November 1, 1984

Admiral Stockdale looks back at his ten years in Vietnam. Ranging in subject from methods of communication in prison to military ethics to the principles of leadership, the thirty-four selections contained in this volume are a unique record of what their author calls a "melting experience," a pressure-packed existence that forces one to grow.