Admiral James Stockdale was a Medal of Honor Recipient who spent seven-and-a-half years in Vietnam’s Hanoi Hilton.
H/T The Epoch Times.
Stockdale was the most senior naval officer held captive in Hanoi, North Vietnam.
As the senior Naval officer, he was one of the primary organizers of prisoner resistance. Tortured routinely and denied medical attention for the severely damaged leg he suffered during capture, Stockdale created and enforced a code of conduct for all prisoners which governed torture, secret communications, and behavior. In the summer of 1969, he was locked in leg irons in a bath stall and routinely tortured and beaten.
When the abuse of American POWs reached a climax in 1969, Stockdale was selected by his captors as a trophy for their propaganda. Knowing that he wouldn’t be paraded if he was disfigured, he cut his own scalp with a razor. When they covered his head with a hat, he beat his own face with a wooden stool, foiling his captors’ plans. During the course of his captivity, due to torture, his leg was broken twice.
After Stockdale found out that several POWs had been tortured to death, he slit his own wrists to show that he would rather die than capitulate to his captors. From that night on, the practice of torturing American POWs stopped in the facility.
Stockdale was one of eleven U.S. military prisoners known as the “Alcatraz Gang”. Because they had been resistance leaders they were separated from other captives and placed in solitary confinement in “Alcatraz”, a special facility in a courtyard behind the North Vietnamese Ministry of National Defense, located about one mile away from Hỏa Lò Prison. In Alcatraz, each of the prisoners was kept in an individual windowless and concrete cell measuring 3 by 9 feet (0.9 by 2.7 m) with a light bulb kept on around the clock, and locked in leg irons each night.
Once, Stockdale had invited Jim Collins, a management scholar, out to lunch. Collins asked Stockdale about how he persevered while in Vietnam.
“I never lost faith in the end of the story,” replied Stockdale. “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.”
Collins then asked about the kinds of people who didn’t make it out of the Hanoi Hilton.
“The optimists,” came the response. And then Stockdale explained.
“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.”