Adm. James Stockdale Dies at 81

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One of the most highly decorated officers in U.S. Naval history has died. Adm. James Stockdale, a war hero, long-time prisoner of war — and one-time vice-presidential candidate — was 81 years old.


One of the most highly decorated officers in US naval history has died. Admiral James Stockdale, a war hero, longtime prisoner of war and one-time vice presidential candidate was 81 years old. James Stockdale was born in Abingdon, Illinois, and graduated from the US Naval Academy in 1946. During the Vietnam War, he distinguished himself as a naval aviator and test pilot. He received the Medal of Honor after enduring seven and a half years as a prisoner of war in North Vietnam. In more recent years, he became known to many Americans as the running mate to Independent presidential candidate Ross Perot in 1992. While the impeccably credentialed Admiral Stockdale was initially viewed as an asset to the Perot campaign, his performance in the nationally televised vice presidential debate against Dan Quayle and Al Gore was not a success.

(Excerpt from vice presidential debate)

Unidentified Man: Admiral Stockdale, your opening statement, please, sir.

Admiral JAMES STOCKDALE (Former Vice Presidential Candidate): Who am I? Why am I here?

MONTAGNE: The admiral's rhetorical questions became fodder for late-night comedians and spelled for some the end of his nascent political career. But Stockdale's military career was one of the most illustrious in recent times. He flew more than 200 missions before being shot down over North Vietnam in September 1965. He was imprisoned for over seven years, enduring torture and four years of solitary confinement. Stockdale was the highest ranking Navy officer to be held in captivity during the Vietnam War. A philosophy buff, he credited the teachings of Greek stoic philosophers for helping sustain him during his imprisonment. In 2001, Stockdale detailed his experiences in North Vietnam in an interview with the Academy of Achievement, a non-profit educational group. He recalled talking with his wife following his 1973 release.

Adm. STOCKDALE: Well, I called Sybil, of course, and we had a very, very loving conversation. She said, `How is--how are your wounds?' And I said, `Well, I can't bend one leg, but--and I can't raise one arm, but I think the walk kind of gives me a sense of style.'

MONTAGNE: The actions of James Stockdale while a POW were credited with improving conditions for other American prisoners of war. He devised a secret code of conduct for prisoners. And to avoid being used in Vietnamese propaganda films, he resorted to self-inflicted wounds.

Adm. STOCKDALE: I looked around for something else to do damage to myself with. And I saw the old toilet can that had been there for years and I knew every chunk of it. But that was infection and there--one thing. And then I said, `Well, what's wrong with this mahogany stool?' And bang, bang, bang, bang.

MONTAGNE: His disfigured face kept him out of propaganda films, but he spent the next two years in leg irons. Later, James Stockdale inflicted near mortal wounds, which convinced his captors of his determination not to give in. The torture of other prisoners soon evaded, according to the Navy. Admiral Stockdale received 26 combat awards, including the Medal of Honor, which was presented to him in 1976. After his retirement from the military, Stockdale served as president of The Citadel. He later worked as a senior research fellow at Stanford University. Admiral James Stockdale will be honored later this month at a memorial service on board the USS Ronald Reagan. According to the Navy, he had been suffering from Alzheimer's disease. James Stockdale died yesterday at his home in Coronado, California.

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