DAVID GREENE, HOST:
It is time now for StoryCorps and memories of Vice Admiral James Stockdale, the highest-ranking Naval officer to be held as a POW in Vietnam. Some of you might remember Stockdale as Ross Perot's running mate in 1992. His opening statement during the vice presidential debate became a punchline on late-night TV.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
JAMES STOCKDALE: Who am I? Why am I here?
GREENE: But Stockdale's legacy goes far beyond that soundbite. His plane was shot down in 1965 over North Vietnam. He was captured and brought to the infamous prison known as the Hanoi Hilton.
During his seven and half years in captivity, Stockdale sent coded messages to the CIA in letters to his wife. He even sliced his own face with a razor so he wouldn't be paraded around as propaganda. His son, Jim Stockdale, was a teenager when his father was captured.
JIM STOCKDALE: At one point while Dad was gone, Mom decided that we would not take any family pictures. She just said it one night at supper and we nodded knowingly as though that made sense (laughter). And she decided that she would buy no new clothes until Dad came home. There was also a point at which she decided that we should always have a small bowl of rice for supper and that's all to sort of share Dad's meager existence. These sound like strange - they are. They're emotional kinds of things that really indicated how desperate we were to do something, you know, how we might live our lives in waiting.
I, at one point, visited a counselor probably five years in, and the one piece of advice I remember was you may be better off just considering your father dead and gone, which, at the time, made pretty good sense to me, you know, after years and years of living with it. The day that Dad came home, we had been forewarned about Dad's injuries, but standing there on the tarmac when he came down the - came down the steps, I remember just holding his featherweight frame in my arms. We were just sort of stumbling over our love for one another.
And I remember the third night he was actually at home, he wanted to go and call the wife of one of the men who had died in prison. And we had about one of those to do a night for a couple of weeks. He felt it was his obligation to report what he knew about the nobility of men who had suffered greatly and had died of either injury or infection or, in a couple of cases, just a broken heart as he described it. We realized how close we had come and we maintained a fierce, loving allegiance to one another through to the very end.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
GREENE: The voice of Jim Stockdale, remembering his father, Vice Admiral James Stockdale, who was awarded the Medal of Honor. He died in 2005. This interview will be archived at the Library of Congress. It's also on the StoryCorps podcast.
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