Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Vice Admiral James Bond Stockdale (born December 23, 1923) is one of the most highly decorated officers in the history of the United States Navy. He was the highest ranking naval officer held as a prisoner of war in Vietnam. Stockdale led the U.S. air squadron during the 1964 Gulf of Tonkin incident. He wears 26 personal combat decorations, including four Silver Star medals and the Medal of Honor. Stockdale is also remembered as a Vice Presidential candidate in the 1992 election on Ross Perot's independent ticket.
Stockdale was born in Abingdon, Illinois. During World War II, he was appointed to the Naval Academy, where he graduated in 1946. Shortly thereafter, Stockdale reported to Pensacola, Florida for flight training.
On August 4, 1964, squadron commander Stockdale was one of the U.S. pilots flying overhead during the Gulf of Tonkin Incident. About which he said in the early 1990's: "[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."
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 Stockdale heard that other prisoners were dying under the torture, he slit his wrists and told them that he preferred death to submission.
Debilitated by his captivity and mistreatment, Stockdale could hardly walk or even stand upright upon his return to the U.S. The Navy, out of respect for his courage, kept him on the active list, steadily promoting him over the next few years before permitting him to retire as a vice admiral.
During his run for the Vice-Presidency, Stockdale was perceived as incoherent and disoriented by the American public. Though Ross Perot stauchly defended and supported his choice, the aging Stockdale was widely seen to be a drag on the Perot campaign. This was further highlighted in the Vice-Presidential debate when Stockdale's opening comments were "Who am I? Why am I here?" Stockdale had limited time to prepare for the debate, having been informed just two days prior to the debate that he would be a participant. It should also be noted that Stockdale himself was unable to provide context for his opening remarks during the course of the debate. In a subsequent 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, 7½ years in prisons, drop the first bomb that started the ... American bombing raid in the North Vietnam. We blew the oil storage tanks of then 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.
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