James Stockdale: Wikis


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James Bond Stockdale
December 23, 1923(1923-12-23) – July 5, 2005 (aged 81)
James Stockdale Formal Portait.jpg
Formal portrait of Rear Adm. James B. Stockdale in full dress white uniform
Place of birth Abingdon, Illinois
Place of death Coronado, California
Place of burial United States Naval Academy Cemetery
Allegiance  United States of America
Service/branch United States Department of the Navy Seal.svg United States Navy
Years of service 1947-1979
Rank Vice Admiral
Battles/wars Vietnam War
Awards Medal of Honor
Navy Distinguished Service Medal (3)
Silver Star (4)
Legion of Merit with Combat "V"
Distinguished Flying Cross (2)
Bronze Star (2) with Combat "V"
Air Medal
Purple Heart (2)
Prisoner of War Medal
Other work U.S. Vice Presidential candidate (1992)

Vice Admiral James Bond Stockdale (December 23, 1923 – July 5, 2005) was one of the most highly decorated officers in the history of the United States Navy.

Stockdale led aerial attacks from the carrier USS Ticonderoga (CV-14) during the 1964 Gulf of Tonkin Incident. On his next deployment, while Commander of Carrier Air Wing 16 aboard the carrier USS Oriskany (CV-34), he was shot down over enemy territory on September 9, 1965. Stockdale was the highest-ranking naval officer held as a prisoner of war in Vietnam. He was awarded 26 personal combat decorations, including the Medal of Honor and four Silver Stars. During the late 1970s, he served as President of the Naval War College.

Stockdale was candidate for Vice President of the United States in the 1992 presidential election, on Ross Perot's independent ticket.


Early life and career

Stockdale was born in Abingdon, Illinois and following a brief period at Monmouth College (1946), he attended the Naval Academy where he graduated in 1947. Stockdale had promised his father that he would try to become the best midshipman at the Naval Academy. Concerning his time at the Naval Academy, he would later say "Plebe year of education under stress was of great personal survival value to me."[1]

Shortly after graduating, Stockdale reported to Naval Air Station Pensacola, Florida, for flight training. In 1954, Stockdale was accepted into the Test Pilot School at NAS Patuxent River, Maryland. It was there that he tutored a young Marine aviator named John Glenn, in math and physics. In 1959 the Navy sent Stockdale to Stanford University where he received a masters degree in International Relations and Marxist Theory. Stockdale preferred the life of a fighter pilot over academia, but later credited Stoic philosophy with helping him cope as a POW.

Vietnam War


Gulf of Tonkin Incident

On 2 August 1964, while on a DeSoto patrol in the Tonkin Gulf, the destroyer USS Maddox (DD731) engaged 3 North Vietnamese Navy P-4 torpedo boats from the 135th Torpedo Squadron, commanded by Le Duy Khoai.[2] After fighting a running gun and torpedo battle, in which the Maddox fired over 280 5-inch shells, and the torpedo boats expended their 6 torpedoes (all misses) and hundreds of rounds of 14.5mm machinegun fire; the combatants broke contact. As the torpedo boats turned for their North Vietnamese coastline, four F8 Crusader jet fighter bombers from the aircraft carrier USS Ticonderoga arrived, and immediately attacked the retreating torpedo boats.[3] Commander James Stockdale and Ltjg. Richard Hastings attacked torpedo boats T-333 and T-336, while Commander R. F. Mohrhardt and Lt. Commander C. E. Southwick attacked torpedo boat T-339. The four pilots reported scoring no hits with their Zuni rockets, but reported hits on all three torpedo boats with their 20mm cannons.[4]

On August 4, 1964, Squadron Commander Stockdale was, again, one of the US pilots flying overhead during the second attack which occurred in the Tonkin Gulf; unlike the first attack, which was an actual sea battle, this second naval engagement is believed to have been a false alarm. In the early 1990s, he

Stockdale exiting a jet weeks before his Vietnam POW experience.

recounted: "[I] had the best seat in the house to watch that event, and our destroyers were just shooting at phantom targets—there were no PT boats there.... There was nothing there but black water and American fire power." Stockdale said his superiors ordered him to keep quiet about this. After he was captured, this knowledge threw a burden upon him. He later said he was concerned that his captors would eventually force him to reveal that he knew this secret about the Vietnam War.

Prisoner of war

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 the North Vietnamese. Early in her husband's captivity she organized The League of American Families of POWs and MIAs, 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 POWs (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 could not have been more fortunate for James Stockdale at the very time he slit his wrists.

President Gerald Ford presents the Medal of Honor to Stockdale at the White House on March 4, 1976

Together with other captives such as George Thomas Coker and Jeremiah Denton, Stockdale was part of a group of about a dozen prisoners known as the "Alcatraz Gang", separated from other captives and placed in solitary confinement for their leadership in resisting their captors.[5]

In a business book by James C. Collins called Good to Great, Collins writes about a conversation he had with Stockdale regarding his coping strategy during his period in the Vietnamese POW camp.[6]

"I never lost faith in the end of the story, I never doubted not only that I would get out, but also that I would prevail in the end and turn the experience into the defining event of my life, which, in retrospect, I would not trade."[7]

When Collins asked who didn't make it out of Vietnam, Stockdale replied:

"Oh, that’s easy, the optimists. Oh, they were the ones who said, 'We're going to be out by Christmas.' And Christmas would come, and Christmas would go. Then they'd say, 'We're going to be out by Easter.' And Easter would come, and Easter would go. And then Thanksgiving, and then it would be Christmas again. And they died of a broken heart."[7]

Stockdale then added:

"This is a very important lesson. You must never confuse faith that you will prevail in the end—which you can never afford to lose—with the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they might be.”[7]

Witnessing this philosophy of duality, Collins went on to describe it as the Stockdale Paradox.

Return to the United States

Stockdale as president of the Naval War College in 1979

Stockdale was released as a prisoner of war on February 12, 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.

He received the Medal of Honor in 1976. Stockdale filed charges against two other officers who, he felt, had given aid and comfort to the enemy. However, the Navy Department under the leadership of then-Secretary of the Navy John Warner took no action and merely retired these men "in the best interests of the Navy."

Debilitated by his captivity and mistreatment, Stockdale could hardly walk or even stand upright upon his return to the United States, which prevented his return to active flying status. Out of respect for his courage, and out of high regard for his intellect, the Navy kept him on the active list, steadily promoting him over the next few years before permitting him to retire as a Vice Admiral. He completed his career by serving as President of the Naval War College, from October 13, 1977, until August 22, 1979.

Civilian academic career and writings

After his retirement in 1979, he became the President of The Citadel, The Military College of South Carolina. His tenure there was short and stormy as he found himself at odds with the college's board as well as most of its administration, by proposing changes to the college's military system and other facets of the college, including the curbing of student hazing. He left The Citadel to become a fellow of the Hoover Institution at Stanford University in 1981.

During the following two decades, Stockdale wrote a number of books both on his experiences during the Vietnam War and afterwards, and on philosophy. In Love and War: the Story of a Family's Ordeal and Sacrifice During the Vietnam War was co-written with his wife Sybil and published in 1984. It is a compilation of love letters he sent to his wife while he was a captured POW. It was later made into an NBC television movie, watched by 45 million people.

Admiral Stockdale was a member of the board of directors of the Rockford Institute, and was a frequent contributor to Chronicles: A magazine of American Culture.[8]

Vice-Presidential candidacy

Stockdale came to know businessman and presidential candidate H. Ross Perot through Sybil Stockdale's work in establishing an organization to represent the families of Vietnam POWs. Ross Perot asked Stockdale to be nominated as Vice President on the ticket in March 1992 at a news conference at the Loews Annapolis Hotel in Annapolis, Maryland. Perot told him that he would be placeholder until Perot found a running mate. Stockdale thought that his name would be removed from the ballot when Perot temporarily withdrew from the race in July.

Perot eventually re-entered the race in the fall of 1992, with Stockdale still in place as the vice-presidential nominee. Stockdale was not informed that he would be participating in the October 13, vice-presidential debate held in Atlanta, Georgia, until a week before the event. He had no formal preparation for the debate, unlike his opponents Al Gore and Dan Quayle. Stockdale infamously opened the debate by saying, "Who am I? Why am I here?" Initially, the rhetorical questions drew applause from the audience, seeming to be a good-natured acknowledgment of his relatively unknown status and lack of traditional qualifications. However, his unfocused style for the rest of the debate (including asking the moderator to repeat one question because he didn't have his hearing aid turned on) made him appear confused and almost disoriented. An unflattering recreation of the moment on Saturday Night Live later that week, with Phil Hartman as Stockdale, cemented a public perception of Stockdale as slow-witted. He was also often parodied for his repeated use of the word "gridlock" to describe slow governmental policy.

As his introduction to the large segment of American voters who had not previously heard of him, the debate was disastrous for Stockdale. He was portrayed in the media as elderly and confused, and his reputation never recovered. In a 1999 interview with Jim Lehrer, Stockdale explained that the statements were intended as an introduction of him and his record to the television audience:

It was terribly frustrating because I remember I started with, "Who am I? Why am I here?" and I never got back to that because there was never an opportunity for me to explain my life to people. It was so different from Quayle and Gore. The four years in solitary confinement in Vietnam, seven-and-a-half years in prisons, drop the first bomb that started the ... American bombing raid in the North Vietnam. We blew the oil storage tanks of them off the map. And I never—I couldn't approach—I don't say it just to brag, but, I mean, my sensitivities are completely different.

Dennis Miller succinctly described Stockdale's predicament in 1993:

Now I know (Stockdale's name has) become a buzzword in this culture for doddering old man, but let's look at the record, folks. The guy was the first guy in and the last guy out of Vietnam, a war that many Americans, including our present President, did not want to dirty their hands with. The reason he had to turn his hearing aid on at that debate is because those fucking animals knocked his eardrums out when he wouldn't spill his guts. He teaches philosophy at Stanford University, he's a brilliant, sensitive, courageous man. And yet he committed the one unpardonable sin in our culture: he was bad on television.

Perot and Stockdale received 19 percent of the vote in the 1992 presidential election, one of the best showings by an independent ticket in US electoral history, although they did not carry any States.

Final years

Sailors carry Stockdale's casket during his funeral service at the U.S. Naval Academy Chapel

Stockdale retired to Coronado, California, as he slowly succumbed to Alzheimer's disease.[9] He died from the illness on July 5, 2005. Stockdale's funeral service was held at the Naval Academy Chapel and he was buried at the United States Naval Academy Cemetery.


  • In January 2006, the Navy announced that the USS Stockdale (DDG-106), an Arleigh Burke–class guided missile destroyer, would be named for him. It was christened on May 10, 2008 in a ceremony at Bath Iron Works. The ship was Commissioned in Port Hueneme, CA on April 18, 2009, and will be homeported at Naval Station San Diego, CA.[10]
  • On August 30, 2007, the newly built main gate at Naval Air Station North Island in Coronado, California, was inaugurated and named after Vice Admiral James Stockdale.
  • The headquarters building for the Pacific Fleet's Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape (SERE) school at NAS North Island was also named in his honor.
  • In July 2008, a statue of him was erected at the Southeast entrance of Luce Hall (Naval Academy), which houses the Vice Admiral James B. Stockdale Center for Ethical Leadership.
  • A luxury suite at the Loews Annapolis Hotel, the hotel where Perot announced his candidacy, was named in Stockdale's honor.

Electoral history

  • 1992 election for U.S. President/Vice President - popular vote share
    • Clinton/Gore (D), 43.0% (370 Electoral Votes)
    • Bush/Quayle (R), 37.7% (168 Electoral Votes)
    • Perot/Stockdale (I), 18.9% (0 Electoral Votes)

Medal of Honor citation

Rank and organization: Rear Admiral (then Captain), U.S. Navy. Place and date: Hoa Lo prison, Hanoi, North Vietnam, 4 September 1969. Entered service at: Abingdon, Ill. Born: 23 December 1923, Abingdon, Ill.


For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty while senior naval officer in the Prisoner of War camps of North Vietnam. Recognized by his captors as the leader in the Prisoners' of War resistance to interrogation and in their refusal to participate in propaganda exploitation, Rear Adm. Stockdale was singled out for interrogation and attendant torture after he was detected in a covert communications attempt. Sensing the start of another purge, and aware that his earlier efforts at self-disfiguration to dissuade his captors from exploiting him for propaganda purposes had resulted in cruel and agonizing punishment, Rear Adm. Stockdale resolved to make himself a symbol of resistance regardless of personal sacrifice. He deliberately inflicted a near-mortal wound to his person in order to convince his captors of his willingness to give up his life rather than capitulate. He was subsequently discovered and revived by the North Vietnamese who, convinced of his indomitable spirit, abated in their employment of excessive harassment and torture toward all of the Prisoners of War. By his heroic action, at great peril to himself, he earned the everlasting gratitude of his fellow prisoners and of his country. Rear Adm. Stockdale's valiant leadership and extraordinary courage in a hostile environment sustain and enhance the finest traditions of the U.S. Naval Service.[11]

Books by James Stockdale

  • Taiwan and the Sino-Soviet Dispute Stanford, California, 1962.
  • The Ethics of Citizenship University of Texas at Dallas, 1981, Andrew R. Cecil lectures on moral values in a free society featured Stockdale and other speakers.
  • James Bond Stockdale Speaks on the "Melting Experience: Grow or Die" Hoover Institution, Stanford, 1981 speech to the graduating class of John Carroll University in Cleveland, Ohio.
  • A Vietnam Experience: Ten Years of Reflection, Hoover Institution, Stanford, 1984, ISBN 0-8179-8151-9.
  • In Love and War: The Story of a Family's Ordeal and Sacrifice During the Vietnam Years Harper & Row, New York, 1984, ISBN 0-06-015318-0.
  • In Love and War: The Story of a Family's Ordeal and Sacrifice During the Vietnam Years Naval Institute Press, reprint 1990, Annapolis, Maryland, ISBN 0-87021-308-3.
  • Courage Under Fire: Testing Epictetus's Doctrines in a Laboratory of Human Behavior Hoover Institution, Stanford, 1993, ISBN 0-8179-3692-0.
  • Thoughts of a Philosophical Fighter Pilot, Hoover Institution, Stanford, 1995 ISBN 0-8179-9391-6.

Other writings by James Stockdale

See also


  1. ^ [1]
  2. ^ Moise, p. 78
  3. ^ Moise, p. 82
  4. ^ Moise, p. 83
  5. ^ Adams, Lorraine. "Perot's Interim Partner Spent 7 1/2 Years As Pow", Dallas Morning News, March 11, 1992. Accessed July 2, 2008. "He was one of the Alcatraz Gang - a group of 11 prisoners of war who were separated because they were leaders of the prisoners' resistance."
  6. ^ The Stockdale Paradox, JimCollins.com. Accessed July 2, 2008.
  7. ^ a b c [2]
  8. ^ The Nation, "The Rockford File," October 26, 1992 (Volume 255).
  9. ^ "Admiral Stockdale official website". http://www.admiralstockdale.com/. Retrieved 2007-05-05. 
  10. ^ [3]
  11. ^ "U.S. Army Center of Military History Medal of Honor Citations Archive". Vietnam War (M – Z). Army Medal of Honor website. June 8, 2009. http://www.army.mil/cmh/html/moh/vietnam-m-z.html. Retrieved February 24, 2010. 


Online references

Written references

Apart from the works written by Stockdale himself, the following work refers extensively to Stockdale's involvement in the Tonkin Gulf:

  • Edwin E. Moise, Tonkin Gulf and the Escalation of the Vietnam War UNC Press North Carolina 1996 ISBN 0-8078-2300-7

The following book is based on the series of lectures delivered for the course in moral philosophy established at the Naval War College by Admiral Stockdale in 1978, when Stockdale was president of the college. The course was designed by Stockdale and Professor Joseph Brennan, who continued to teach it after Stockdale retired from the Navy. The Foreword was written by Stockdale.

  • Joseph Gerard Brennan, FOUNDATIONS OF MORAL OBLIGATION: The Stockdale Course, Presidio Press, Novato, California (1994) ISBN 0-89141-528-9


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