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First Name: James

Last Name: Stockdale

Birthplace: Abingdon, IL, USA

Gender: Male

Branch: Navy (present)


Middle Name: Bond

Date of Birth: 23 December 1923

Date of Death: 05 July 2005

Rank or Rate: Vice Admiral

Years Served: 1947 - 1979
James Bond Stockdale

Graduate, U.S. Naval Academy, Class of 1947

•  Vietnam War (1960 - 1973)


James Bond Stockdale
Vice Admiral, U.S. Navy
Medal of Honor Recipient
Vietnam War

Vice Admiral James Bond Stockdale was one of the most highly decorated officers in the history of the U.S. 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 9 September 1965. Stockdale was the highest-ranking naval officer held as a Prisoner of War in Vietnam.

James Bond Stockdale was born on 23 December 1923 in Abingdon, IL. Following a brief period at Monmouth College (1946), he attended the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, MD, from which he graduated with the class of 1947 (which actually graduated in 1946 due to the abbreviated schedule still in effect from World War II). 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."

Shortly after graduating, Stockdale reported to Naval Air Station Pensacola, FL, for flight training. In 1954, Stockdale was accepted into the U.S. Naval Test Pilot School at the Naval Air Station Patuxent River base in Southern 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 Master's 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 (DD-731) engaged 3 North Vietnamese Navy P-4 torpedo boats from the 135th Torpedo Squadron, commanded by Le Duy Khoai. 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 F-8 Crusader jet fighter bombers from the aircraft carrier USS Ticonderoga (CV-14) arrived, and immediately attacked the retreating torpedo boats. Commander James Stockdale and Lieutenant (J.G.) Richard Hastings attacked torpedo boats T-333 and T-336; 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.

On 4 August 1964, Squadron Commander Stockdale was again one of the U.S. pilots flying overhead during a second attack that 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 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 9 September 1965, Stockdale ejected from his A-4E Skyhawk, which had been disabled from friendly fire after the mechanical malfunction of his wingman's ordnance. Stockdale ejected and 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 (the infamous 'Hanoi Hilton') 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 was discovered with information that could implicate his friends' 'black activities,' he slit his wrists so they could not torture him into confession.

Little did Stockdale know that the actions of his wife, 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 circumstances. 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.

Stockdale was part of a group of about a 11 prisoners known as the "Alcatraz Gang": George Thomas Coker, George McKnight, Jeremiah Denton, Harry Jenkins, Sam Johnson, James Mulligan, Howard Rutledge, Robert Shumaker, Ronald Storz and Nels Tanner; which was separated from other captives and placed in solitary confinement for their leadership in resisting their captors. "Alcatraz" was a special facility in a courtyard behind the North Vietnamese Ministry of National Defense, located about one mile away from Hoa Lo Prison. In Alcatraz, each of the 11 men were kept in solitary confinement, where cells measured 3 feet by 9 feet that had a light bulb kept on around the clock and they were locked each night in irons by a guard.

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.

"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."

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."

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."

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

Release and Return to the U.S.

Stockdale was released as a prisoner of war on 12 February 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 U.S., 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 13 October 1977 until 22 August 1979.

Medal of Honor

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, IL. Born: 23 December 1923, Abingdon, IL.

Citation: 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.

Medals and Awards

Medal of Honor
Navy Distinguished Service Medal (3)
Silver Star Medal (4)
Legion of Merit with Combat Valor Device
Distinguished Flying Cross (2)
Bronze Star Medal (2) with Combat Valor Device
Purple Heart (2)
Air Medal
Prisoner of War Medal


• 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 10 May 2008 in a ceremony at Bath Iron Works. The ship was Commissioned in Port Hueneme, CA, on 18 April 2009, and will be home-ported at Naval Station San Diego, CA
• On 30 August 2007, the newly built main gate at Naval Air Station North Island in Coronado, CA, 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 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.

Civilian Academic Career and Writings

After his retirement from the U.S. Navy in 1979, he became 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. 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 includes several letters sent between the Stockdales 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.

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. On 30 March 1992, at a news conference at the Loews Annapolis Hotel in Annapolis, MD, Ross Perot announced that he had asked Stockdale to be his provisional nominee for Vice President on the 1992 Reform Party ticket.

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 13 October vice-presidential debate held in Atlanta, GA, 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.

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.

Vice Admiral Stockdale's Final Years

Stockdale retired to Coronado, CA, where he slowly succumbed to the complications of Alzheimer's disease.

Death and Burial

Vice Admiral James Bond Stockdale died from the complications of Alzheimer's disease on 5 July 2005. Stockdale's funeral service, with full military honors, was held at the Naval Academy Chapel and he was buried at the United States Naval Academy Cemetery.

Books by James Stockdale

Taiwan and the Sino-Soviet Dispute Stanford, CA, 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, OH.
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, MD, 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

• Stockdale on Stoicism I: The Stoic Warrior's Triad
• Stockdale on Stoicism II: Master of My Fate

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, CA, (1994) ISBN 0-89141-528-9

Honoree ID: 96   Created by: MHOH




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