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James Stockdale - FU Hero

Posted by admin on August 1, 2008

James Bond Stockdale was a true American hero.  He was a Medal of Honor recipient, former Viet Nam prisoner of war (POW), naval aviator and test pilot, and academic.  He was a man of uncompromising integrity and unyielding personal character.  He was quite simply the quintessential warrior.

The Navy, following the lead of top businesses, companies and organizations of our day, has penned its “Core Values.” The Navy’s core values are: Honor, Courage and Commitment. Vice Admiral Stockdale embodied these ideals 4 decades before they became apropos in today’s “modern” Navy. As Commander, Air Group 16, he uttered these hallowed words to the Naval Aviators of Air Group 16 from the deck of the USS Oriskany (CVA-34):
“Once you go “feet dry” over the beach, there can be nothing limited about your commitment. ‘Limited war’ means to us that our target list has limits, our ordnance loadout has limits, our rules of engagement have limits, but that does not mean that there is anything limited about our personal obligations as fighting men to carry out assigned missions with all we’ve got. Don’t ask for Hollywood answers to questions like ‘what are we fighting here for?’ We are here to fight because it is in the best interests of the United States that we do so, which may not be the most dramatic way of explaining it – but it has the advantage of being absolutely correct.”
Truer words have never been spoken.
I first read these words in a Change of Command program that I attended as a young JO, and they have forever been etched into my psyche. They have remained with me over the years, and I thought so highly of them that I included them in my own Change of Command program.
CDR Stockdale, a.k.a. CAG (Commander, Carrier Group 16) became the highest-ranking naval officer ever held as a POW in North Vietnam after his plane was shot down Sept. 9, 1965, while flying a combat mission over North Vietnam. He landed in a village and was brutally beaten by the villagers. He spent 7 years as a POW in the “Hanoi Hilton.” As one of a group of roughly a dozen prisoners known as the “Alcatraz Gang”, he was separated from other prisoners in a French-built isolated cell block, and he spent over 4 years in solitary isolation for his leadership in resisting his captors.

VADM Stockdale described in a book by James C. Collins called Good to Great 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, VADM 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."

Witnessing this philosophy of duality, Collins went on to describe it as the Stockdale Paradox: “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.”
He was released as a POW on February 12, 1973. His shoulders had been wrenched out of their sockets, his leg shattered by angry villagers and a torturer, and his back broken. Nonetheless, he refused to capitulate. He remained steadfast to the Code of Conduct. He was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor in 1976 for his action as a POW.
VADM Stockdale was severely debilitated by his captivity and mistreatment. He could hardly walk let alone stand upon his return to the United States. This prevented his return to an active flying status.
VADM Stockdale succumbed to Alzheimer’s disease on July 5, 2005 in Coronado, CA. He was buried in the United States Naval Academy Cemetery with full military honors. His story and accomplishments are truly remarkable, and may he forever be remembered by all – Godspeed.


Posted by rockinmk on
Great story Lester (Huh?)
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