"Leadership must be based on goodwill. Goodwill does not mean posturing and, least of all, pandering to the mob. It means obvious and wholehearted commitment to helping followers. We are tired of leaders we fear, tired of leaders we love, and tired of leaders who let us take liberties with them. What we need for leaders are men of the heart who are so helpful that they, in effect, do away with the need of their jobs. But leaders like that are never out of a job and never out of followers. Strange as it sounds, great leaders gain authority by giving it away." -- Admiral James B. Stockdale
"As I ejected from the plane I broke a bone in my back, but that was only the beginning. I landed in the streets of a small village. A thundering herd was coming down on me. They were going to defend the honor of their town. It was the quarterback sack of the century."
They tore off his clothes and beat him mercilessly. Stockdale suffered a broken leg and paralyzed arm before a military policeman took him into custody. He was now a prisoner of war, the highest ranking naval officer to be held as a POW in Vietnam.
Stockdale wound up in Hoa Lo Prison - the infamous " Hanoi Hilton" -- where he spent the next seven and a half years under unimaginably brutal conditions. He was physically tortured no fewer than 15 times. Techniques included beatings, whippings, and near-asphyxiation with ropes. Mental torture was incessant. He was kept in solitary confinement, in total darkness, for four years, chained in heavy, abrasive leg irons for two years, malnourished due to a starvation diet, denied medical care, and deprived of letters from home in violation of the Geneva Convention.
Through it all, Stockdale's captors held out the promise of better treatment if he would only admit that the United States was engaging in criminal behavior against the Vietnamese people, but Stockdale refused. Drawing strength from principles of stoic philosophy, Stockdale heroically resisted. His courage was an inspiration to his fellow POWs, with whom he communicated in an ingenious code, maintaining unit cohesion and morale. His jailers increased the level of torture, so Stockdale determined to fight back in the only way he could.
Told that he was to be taken "downtown" and paraded in front of foreign journalists, Stockdale slashed his scalp with a razor and beat himself in the face with a wooden stool. He reasoned that his captors would not dare display a prisoner who appeared to have been beaten. When he learned that his fellow prisoners were dying under torture, he slashed his wrists to show their captors that he preferred death to submission. Stockdale literally gambled with his life, and won. Convinced of Stockdale's determination to die rather than cooperate, the Communists ceased trying to extract bogus "confessions" from him. The torture of American prisoners ended, and treatment of all American POWs improved. Upon his release in 1973, Stockdale's extraordinary heroism became widely known, and he received the Congressional Medal of Honor in the nation's bicentennial year. He was one of the most highly decorated officers in the history of the Navy, with 26 personal combat decorations, including four Silver Star medals in addition to the Medal of Honor.
Throughout Stockdale's captivity, his wife Sybil campaigned for respectful treatment for the families of all POWs by founding the League of Families. Sybil Stockdale was presented with the U.S. Navy Department's Distinguished Public Service Award by the Chief of Naval Operations. She is the only wife of an active-duty officer ever to be so honored.
After serving as the
President of the Naval War College,
Stockdale retired from the Navy in 1978 and embarked on a distinguished
academic career, including a term as President of the Citadel, and 15
years as a Senior Research Fellow at Stanford University's Hoover
Institution. In 1992 he graciously agreed to a request from his old
friend H. Ross Perot to stand with Perot as the vice presidential
candidate of the Reform Party, and throughout the campaign he comported
himself with the same integrity and dignity that marked his entire
career. Together, the Stockdales told their story in a joint memoir, In
Love and War. Admiral Stockdale and his wife lived quietly on Coronado
Island, off of San Diego, until his death in 2005.
Not yet available
The eagle, symbol of vigilance and courage, represents the Vice
Admiral’s exemplary resistance to his captors’
and pressure to use him and his fellow captives as propaganda tools.
The eagle refers also to Stockdale’s award of aviator wings
represented in the crest and his distinction as pilot and instructor.
Dark blue represents the U.S. Navy, the white of the eagle’s
denotes integrity and idealism. The demi-trident refers to leadership
and the Vice Admiral’s commitment to uphold in captivity the
standards of conduct. The silver and scarlet bordure represents the
cohesion of Navy personnel under stress and their tradition of
sacrifice and courage