Guest Column: A soldier died today

StoryImage( ‘/Images/Story//Auto-img-11212739752715.jpg’, ”, ‘Vice Admiral James Stockdale’);

Vice Admiral James Stockdale, Dec. 23, 1923-July 5, 2003, was one of the most highly decorated American officers in the history of the United States Navy. He was the highest-ranking naval officer held as a Vietnam prisoner of war, and led the U.S. Air Squadron during the 1964 Gulf of Tonkin incident. He was awarded 26 personal combat decorations, including the Medal of Honor and four Silver Stars for heroism. Stockdale is also remembered by this veteran as a vice-presidential candidate in the 1992 election.

On Aug. 4, 1964, Squadron Commander James Stockdale was one of the U.S. pilots scrambled off their carriers to do battle with the North Vietnamese Navy during the Gulf of Tonkin incident. As he was flying over the supposed area this battle took place, he noticed what most Americans failed to realize. North Vietnam didn’t have a navy, unless they attacked with Sampans and Junks. In any event, in the 1990s he said this about the Gulf of Tonkin incident: “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 but black water and American fire power.”

Jim Stockdale broke radio silence and called back to the carrier about there not being any battle. and was reminded to maintain radio silence and return to his carrier. Shortly thereafter, on a mission over North Vietnam on Sept. 9, 1965, his A-4F Skyhawk had its tailboom blown off, and he ejected from his aircraft and became a POW. He went down by parachute into a small Vietnamese village, where he was beaten and taken prisoner.

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 into unconsciousness. When told by his captors that he was going to be paraded in public and like it, his protests turned to slitting his scalp with a razor to purposely disfigure himself so his captors could not use him for war propaganda. When Vice Admiral Stockdale learned that other POW’s were dying at the hands of the NVA captors as they were tortured, he cut his wrists in protest and told the NVA Commanders he preferred death rather than submission to them.

America had all but forgotten Admiral Stockdale until one bright sunny day in 1973 when he was released as a prisoner of war. He was brought back to the U.S. and received the Medal of Honor in 1976, three whole years later.

Debilitated by his captivity and mistreatment, Stockdale could hardly walk or even stand upright upon his return to the United States.

As I reflect on the men who died while I was in Southeast Asia, I can only imagine what would have happened had America listened when Vice-Admiral Stockdale tried to tell them that the Gulf of Tonkin sea battle was a lie and didn’t really take place.

Perhaps this one short act of attempting to relay the truth of the event is why this major newspaper [the Rockford Register Star] just barely has anything to say about a national hero, especially during a time when soldiers are fighting and dying on battlefields across the sea.

I, for one, remember this Navy hero, just as I remember the Navy pilots and those on the ships who kept them flying over us as they shadowed us with their armed protection day and night.

Real good news media, huh?

Man, they oughta pay for a funeral down Pennsylvannia Avenue for this man.

Daniel Sutherland is a Rockford resident.

From the July 13-19, 2005, issue

Enjoy The Rock River Times? Help spread the word!