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