Excerpt from an account of his experiences as a prisoner of war
Published in In Love and War by James and Sybil Stockdale, 1984
"I wrote the papers, and I signed them. But I made them beat it out of me. I felt like two cents when it was done."
During the Vietnam War, thousands of soldiers on both sides of the conflict were captured and imprisoned by enemy forces. These prisoners of war (POWs) included infantry soldiers, fighter pilots, and other military personnel, as well as people who participated in the conflict by spying, recruiting, or providing other direct assistance to the enemy army.
As the Vietnam War progressed, neither the Communist leadership of North Vietnam nor the U.S.-supported government of South Vietnam paid much attention to international guidelines on proper treatment of POWs. These guidelines were detailed in the Geneva Conventions, a series of international agreements that had been developed through the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.
According to the terms of the Geneva Conventions, POWs were supposed to receive "humane treatment," including adequate food, shelter, and medical care. But both North and South Vietnam subjected many of their war prisoners to horrible treatment. For example, both sides tortured some of their prisoners in order to punish them or gain information. In addition, many captives received very poor food, shelter, and medical care. Some prisoners spent years wearing the same tattered uniforms in which they had been captured.
American soldiers were not spared from this terrible treatment. In fact, their North Vietnamese captors singled them out for special attention, since they believed that their true enemy was the powerful United States, not the weak South Vietnamese government.
Since most of the Vietnam conflict was fought in South Vietnam, relatively few U.S. soldiers were captured and imprisoned. The Communists recognized that the time and effort involved in transporting American servicemen captured in the South all the way to prison camps in the North was too great. But they did imprison several hundred American pilots who were shot down during bombing or surveillance missions over North Vietnam.
Over the course of the war, North Vietnam held approximately six hundred U.S. servicemen in POW camps scattered across their territory. Most of these men were pilots shot down in air raids, but about fifty were infantry soldiers captured in ground fighting. The first of the U.S. pilots to be shot down and captured was Navy pilot Everett Alvarez, Jr. Other notable pilots captured over the ensuing months included Commander James Stockdale, Lieutenant Colonel Robinson Risner, Commander Jeremiah Denton, Lieutenant Commander Richard Stratton, and Lieutenant Commander John McCain III, son of Navy Admiral John S. McCain, Jr.
The Communists maintained POW camps in both North Vietnam and Cambodia, but most of the camps were scattered around the capital city of Hanoi. Prisons maintained by the North included Cu Loc (nicknamed the "Zoo" by American POWs), Xam Ap Lo, and "Alcatraz." The most notorious of the North Vietnam POW camps, however, was Hoa Lo Prison. This facility, nicknamed the "Hanoi Hilton" by its American inmates, housed many of the American POWs during the final years of the war.
Living conditions in the Hanoi Hilton and other POW camps were terrible. American prisoners were locked for days at a time in dank, humid cement cells that reeked of urine, sweat, and vomit. The only companions that many prisoners had were the rats, mosquitos, and cockroaches that infested the camps. Medical care was practically nonexistent in almost all the camps. In addition, most of the POWs received only meager portions of spoiled food and contaminated water. Forced to live on maggot-infested meat, moldy bread, and polluted water, many American POWs contracted painful viruses or serious diseases.
The worst aspect of prison life for the American pilots and other soldiers, however, was their captors' use of torture. The North Vietnamese prison officials, known as the Camp Authority, inflicted horrible torture on many of the American inmates. Interviews with American POWs after the war, in fact, indicate that approximately 95 percent of them were tortured between 1965 and 1969. In some cases these torture episodes pushed prisoners to the brink of death or actually killed them.
During the early years of the Vietnam War, North Viet nam denied that it tortured its prisoners. Some American antiwar activists defended the North's claims of innocence. These activists—some of whom were given limited tours of the POW camps by Communist officials—charged that the stories of POW torture were outright lies. Eventually, however, clear evidence of Communist torture began to mount. When this happened, the Communists switched public relations tactics. They declared that captured American pilots were war criminals rather than prisoners of war and therefore not covered by the rules of the Geneva Conventions.
The Communists used torture for a variety of reasons. Sometimes they wanted to gain military information from their prisoners. On other occasions, they used torture as a weapon to maintain order and obedience in the camps. Finally, the North Vietnamese resorted to torture in order to force American POWs to confess to "war crimes" on camera or sign statements criticizing U.S. involvement in the war. They even tortured American servicemen into signing documents praising the North for their "humane treatment" of their prisoners. The Communists valued these "confessions" because they thought that the documents would help them turn American and world public opinion against U.S. involvement in Vietnam.
Most of the American POWs resisted their captors to the best of their abilities, even though they knew that the guards would punish them for their defiance with torture sessions. Some prisoners even took extraordinary risks to transmit messages about their condition to U.S. officials. Navy pilot Jeremiah Denton blinked the word "torture" in Morse Code with his eyelids when his captors forced him to confess to "war crimes" to reporters from other Communist countries. The U.S. government used film footage of this interview as evidence that North Vietnam was torturing American POWs.
The American POWs also developed a tapping code so that they could communicate with fellow POWs held in other cells (POWs were often forbidden to speak to inmates in other cells). Using this code to exchange news and encourage one another to remain strong, the prisoners adopted a unified front against their captors. They also took steps to ensure that no American was forgotten. "The POWs had one mental exercise in common," wrote Robert Timberg in The Nightingale's Song. "They committed to memory the name of every prisoner they knew of, which eventually included almost all of the nearly six hundred aviators in captivity. The mind game was serious business. Suspicious of Vietnamese claims that they had made public an accurate prisoner list, the Americans wanted to be ready for any opportunity to smuggle out a complete roster."
These efforts helped boost the morale of the hundreds of American POWs held captive in North Vietnam and Cambodia. But the appalling conditions in which the inmates lived, year after year, still evoked feelings of hopelessness and despair in nearly every prisoner at one time or another. Indeed, each American POW waged a daily struggle to keep his bleak surroundings from extinguishing his dream of someday returning home to family and loved ones.
Over the years, several American pilots who were imprisoned during the Vietnam War have written about their wartime experiences. One of these men was U.S. Navy pilot James B. Stockdale (1923– ), who was the highest-ranking American prisoner of war during the Vietnam conflict. Stationed with the USS Oriskany aircraft carrier, he was shot down on his two-hundredth mission over North Vietnam in September 1965. After his capture, Stockdale endured eight years of torture and long periods of solitary confinement at the hands of the North Vietnamese. Like all other Americans who were subjected to torture, he eventually confessed to illegal activities and signed antiwar statements. But Stockdale defied his captors throughout his imprisonment. In fact, he became an essential figure in organizing American POWs to resist their captors and remain hopeful of eventual freedom. His wife Sybil Stockdale also became a leading activist on behalf of American POWs during the war. She founded the League of Wives of American Vietnam POWs.
Things to remember while reading the excerpt from In Love and War:
- North Vietnamese prison authorities often used intimidation or torture to force prisoners to give up important military information, inform on fellow prisoners, make false statements about the treatment they received, or testify that their actions against North Vietnam were "crimes."
- No prisoner could withstand torture forever. But American pilots and other POWs who were forced to sign incriminating or anti-American statements nonetheless often felt great guilt afterwards. The POW support network that Stockdale and others established helped these prisoners to realize that they were still good soldiers who could take pride in their service.
- Stockdale was the highest-ranking officer in the POW camps in which he was held. He used this authority to pass along rules designed to help other POWs survive their imprisonment with dignity and hope for the future. Stockdale's actions, though, eventually got him in serious trouble with his captors.
Excerpt from James Stockdale's memoir In Love and War:
Unity was our best hope. And in our prison, unity came automatically. Men of goodwill of the sort that inhabited those dungeons, faced with a torture system that made them write, recite, and do things they would never think of doing in a life of freedom, wanted above all else to enter a society of peers that had rules putting some criteria of right and wrong into their lives. Authority was not something that had to be imposed from the top; to be led, to obey fair and universal orders within the capability of all, was a right that this community of Americans demanded. A life of perfection was for them out of the question, but they all elected to take pain in a unified resistance program, to fight back against degradation.
To tell them "Do the best you can and decide for yourself how to resist" was an insult. They demanded to be told exactly what to take torture for. They saw that it was only on that basis that life for them could be made to make sense, that their self-esteem could be maintained, and that they could sleep with a clear conscience at night. . . .
To just issue the order "Do not bow" would have been folly and ultimately destructive of prisoner unity. The Vietnamese had gotten the drop on us with this bowing to every one of them at every meeting, and right now an order to refuse would have meant the beating of most of us into submission. That is, if the offense was committed inside the camp. But they couldn't afford to show their viciousness in public, and I had learned that ex-post-facto [after an event] punishments were more often than not halfhearted. They were overloaded with publicappearance commitments and had to concentrate on short-term payoffs and often let long-term "lessons" slide. It was in public that the real prisoner humiliation came in, so 'Don't bow in public' was a good, practical, useful law. . . .
It would be the height of ignorance to order sententiously, "Make no confessions"; the toughest of the tough were forced to make them from time to time. But I thought that if everybody applied his post-torture skill and cunning to the problem of avoiding the use of the word crime in confessions, we could do it, and thereby take a lot of the emotional steam out of what they published. "Admit no crimes" thus became a law. . . .
My whole concept of proper prisoner-of-war behavior was based on sticking together. We were in a situation in which loners could make out. If, after the initial shakedown, you refused to communicate with Americans, there was tacit agreement that the Vietnamese would leave you alone; there would likely be no more torture, no confessions, no radio broadcasts, maybe not even another tough military-informationinterrogation. One interested only in keeping his own nose clean could score lots of points by remaining a loner. I asked everybody to give up this edge of individual flexibility and get in the swim, communicate, level with your American neighbors on just what-all you compromised, what information you had to give up in the torture room, to freely enter into collusions with Americans, to take your lumps together and, if necessary, all go down the tubes together. In this circumstance our highest value had to be placed on the support of the man next door. To ignore him was to betray him. The bottom line was placing unity over selfish interests. It was "Unity over Self." . . . In the spring of 1967 the orders were carried to every camp in the Hanoi prison system under my name as the senior American communicating in that system. . . .
[August 1967] As usual that night we made sure all the new arrivals in the hallway understood my standing orders and my name. A week later the Camp Authority became tense and ruthless and the Thunderbird hallway started to be vacated, cell after cell each day. One of those who got the orders, a young and dedicated navy pilot, had come into prison on the crest of such a wave of new shootdowns that he had just that afternoon been stashed in Thunderbird, even before he'd had his initial shakedown torture for current bombing-operations information. We didn't ask him how long he had been down, but had no idea he was that fresh-caught and inexperienced. That night they took him out and put him in the ropes [torture devices] and demanded that he give certain information. He innocently replied, "No, sir; that is against my commanding officer's orders." Cat [one of the guards] was called immediately, the ropes tightened, and the young man, like the best of men, was forced to give what they now knew he knew: what the orders were, and what my name was. The purge for more particulars about the complete chain of command was on. I knew it had been inevitable.
This purge affected many people, bringing torture to many and death to some. Norm Schmidt was taken to interrogation and never came back. Dan Glenn was tortured and in irons two months, interrogated mercilessly, and never let anything crucial escape his lips. Nels Tanner, on his one hundred and twenty-third day in leg irons in the Mint, was caught at communications, tortured, and made to reveal before movie cameras the content and meaning of my orders. Ron Storz was buttonholed and told to come across with information on me, and his response was to take the pen they asked him towrite it with and jam it nearly through his left arm. He carried a bigscar from that the rest of his short life. . . .
[Prison authorities tortured Stockdale for some time, then transported him to a new room he had never seen before.] An unprecedented array of people and paraphernalia were there to meet me. A long table was against the wall opposite the door; and behind it . . .were at least half a dozen Vietnamese officers I had never seen before.The man in the center was portly and spoke English. I mentally nicknamed him "Mao. " Behind me was a semicircle of about ten riflemen, bayonets fixed and pointing toward the floor. Pigeye was up front where I expected to see him, and he had there as his assistanttorturer the big kid who had been at the Zoo as a recruit. . . .
Mao opened the proceedings by stating, "I have not been herelong, but I have heard a lot about you and it's all bad. You have incited the other criminals to oppose the Camp Authority."
[Pigeye then punched Stockdale and placed him in a rope torturedevice,] amid extraordinary shouting from both the table and the ringof soldiers behind. Somewhere in this excitement, as my head wasbeing forced down . . . Pigeye, I think by mistake, looped the ropeunder my left (broken) leg and around my neck and took a purchase on forcing my head down to my left knee, rather than to my right kneeas he had done before. My leg was bending backward, giving at theknee, when suddenly—pop!—there went that hard-won cartilage.
Pigeye heard it, everybody heard it, but nobody could acknowledgeit. I was out of business. I submitted, and told them all they wanted to hear. Yes, I had opposed the Camp Authority and I had incited the othercriminals to oppose the Camp Authority. The whole thing ended theresort of self-consciously, with everybody filing out and me sitting thereon the floor. I was not to be able to get up for over a month.
Three weeks were spent on the floor of that . . . room while I wasworked over alternately by Greasy and Vy, with able assistance from Pigeye or Big Ugh as needed, as "war crimes" dossiers on myself and all my leading senior compatriots were compiled. I wrote the papers, and I signed them. But I made them beat it out of me. I felt like two cents when it was done.
What happened next . . .
In late 1969 the treatment of American POWs began to change for the better, though torture and other punishments remained ever-present threats. The quality of food, shelter, and medical care at most of the camps improved, and inmates were given more opportunities to interact with one another.
Many historians believe that this change came about as a direct result of the 1969 death of North Vietnamese leader Ho Chi Minh. They contend that his death triggered a reassessment of government policies toward the POWs. Communist leaders realized that the POWs would be valuable bargaining chips in any negotations to end the war. They also belatedly recognized that their abusive treatment of the prisoners was hurting their efforts to divide the American people. Indeed, the American public had become deeply divided over many aspects of the Vietnam War by 1969. But nearly all Americans were united in their concern for the well-being of the POWs.
In early 1973 the United States and North Vietnam reached agreement on a treaty to end the war. Threatened with a withdrawal of U.S. support, the South Vietnamese government reluctantly went along with the treaty. Under the terms of this agreement, called the Paris Peace Accords, all prisoners of war held by South and North Vietnam—including the Americans—were supposed to be released within 60 days. In addition, each side was supposed to account for all prisoners who had died in captivity during the war.
In the two months following the agreement, a major exchange of prisoners took place. The South Vietnamese government based in Saigon released 26,880 POWs to North Vietnam's Communist government. In return, the Communists delivered 5,336 South Vietnamese prisoners. Both sides complained that the other failed to release all prisoners, however. These complaints eventually resulted in the release of another 5,000 Communist POWs and 600 South Vietnamese POWs, but some historians believe that the South continued to hold thousands of alleged enemies of the state in prison.
When the Paris Peace Accords were signed, North Vietnam immediately turned over a list of 591 American POWs who would be returned by the deadline. These men all were released. In accordance with U.S. Military Code of Conduct, American soldiers who had been held captive for the longest period of time returned home first. The first group, which included pilots who had been held captive for as long as nine years, flew from Hanoi to a U.S. base in the Philippines on February 12, 1973. Upon disembarking from the plane, Jeremiah Denton, who had been held captive for seven years, declared that "We are honored to have had the opportunity to serve our country."
Over the next several weeks, the American POWs returned to a jubilant United States. Dozens of parades and homecoming celebrations were held to welcome them home, and President Richard Nixon hosted a special White House dinner in their honor. Most Americans agreed that the POWs deserved this outpouring of affection. But the celebrations reminded some Vietnam veterans and their families that most Americans who served in the war had been ignored or mistreated upon returning home.
The MIA controversy
The homecoming also failed to convince some Americans that all POWs had been released by the Communists. In fact, one of the greatest controversies that currently surrounds the Vietnam War is the question of whether American soldiers who served in the conflict are still alive and being held captive in Indochina. Many Americans believe that there is a significant likelihood that some soldiers listed as "Missing in Action" or "MIAs" are actually POWs. A national poll held in the early 1990s indicated that about two-thirds of Americans believe that the Vietnamese are still holding American soldiers prisoner. But many scholars and historians flatly reject this theory. They charge that the theory is based on emotion rather than any credible evidence of POW/MIA survivors. Nonetheless, the issue significantly impacted relations between the United States and Vietnam after the war.
The MIA issue first emerged in the mid-1970s, spurred by Vietnam veterans and families of soldiers listed as missing in action. Citing reports of "live sightings" of American POWs still held in Vietnam, these activists formed a number of support groups to publicize their cause. The most powerful of these organizations were the National League of Families of American Prisoners and Missing in Southeast Asia and Voices in Vital America (VIVA).
In 1975 a special House of Representatives committee chaired by G. V. "Sonny" Montgomery, a Mississippi Democrat, was created to determine if any Americans listed as POWs or MIAs were still being held by Vietnam. After 15 months, the committee concluded that "no Americans are still being held alive as prisoners in Indochina, or elsewhere, as a result of the war in Indochina." But this investigation failed to put the issue to rest.
In the late 1970s and 1980s activists working on behalf of the MIA issue claimed that "sightings" and other evidence showed that American MIAs remained alive in Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia, where they endured terrible abuse. The evidence cited by the MIA groups ranged from photographs to eyewitness testimony. Many of these activists claimed that the U.S. government knew of the situation but chose to cover it up for its own reasons.
Around this same time, the continued imprisonment of American soldiers in Vietnam became a major plot element in numerous American films and books. Films like Rambo: First Blood, Part II—which featured a storyline in which a lone Vietnam veteran defeats villainous Vietnamese and backstabbing American officials to rescue a group of POWs—contributed to the growing belief in many American neighborhoods that U.S. soldiers might still be trapped in Vietnam. POW/MIA organizations, meanwhile, raised millions of dollars to publicize their beliefs.
As public demands to learn the fate of all American MIAs intensified, the U.S. government launched a series of investigations. In nearly every instance, the investigators learned that the "evidence" was wrong or falsified. Investigators also pointed out that although nearly 2,300 Americans remained officially "unaccounted for" from the war in Indochina, approximately 1,100 of these soldiers were known to have been killed in action. They were listed as "unaccounted for" only because their bodies had never been recovered (for example, many of these MIAs were pilots whose planes had been seen crashing into the sea or exploding in mid-air). Finally, historians noted that every major war in world history has featured combatants who die without ever being identified or having their bodies recovered. For example, H. Bruce Franklin pointed out in M.I.A. or Mythmaking in America that approximately 78,750 Americans remain unaccounted for from World War II.
Nonetheless, the U.S. government continued to pursue possible evidence that MIAs were alive in Indochina. Throughout the mid-1980s, for instance, the Department of Defense claimed that "it would be irresponsible to rule out the possibility that live Americans are being held [in Indochina]." This viewpoint was actively encouraged by President Ronald Reagan and other lawmakers who believed in the possibility of living MIAs. Lawmakers who were not convinced by the MIA conspiracy, meanwhile, were reluctant to say so. They feared that if they declared their true feelings, they would be called unpatriotic or viewed as participants in a vast government scheme to hide the truth from the American people.
Still, the MIA activists did not escape criticism during this period. Many people felt that the activists' theories about Vietnam's decision to keep American prisoners and U.S. government cover-ups were not very believable. In addition, some activists were accused of using the MIA issue to increase their own personal fortunes, even though their insistence on the existence of U.S. POWs gave false hope to the families of American soldiers who had disappeared during the war. "The myth of live POWs has been an unhappy burden on the American people," claimed Susan Katz Keating in Prisoners of Hope. "It has fostered mistrust and falsified the national history. More important, it has destroyed the lives of MIA families."
Others charged that the MIA groups were manipulated and misled by lawmakers, veterans, and others who opposed U.S. reconciliation with Vietnam. Finally, some observers contended that efforts to prove that American MIAs remained alive in Indochina was basically an effort to rewrite the history of the Vietnam War in America's favor. Franklin, for example, claimed that the theory that American POWs continue to be held in Vietnam "proves undeniably the cruelty and inhumanity of the Asian Communists, the fortitude and heroism of the American fighting man, and the noble cause for which the United States fought in Indochina." Despite such criticism, however, groups devoted to the MIA issue remained very strong throughout the United States.
In the early 1990s the governments of the United States and Vietnam slowly moved toward normal relations after years of animosity and distrust. This was made possible in large part by Vietnam's willingness to meet a wide range of U.S. demands designed to determine the status of American troops still listed as missing in action in Indochina. Vietnam opened its wartime military records and cooperated with U.S. efforts to find and retrieve the bodies of American servicemen scattered across Indochina.
These actions failed to satisfy many POW/MIA groups in America, but they helped convince the Clinton administration to lift a long-time trade embargo (prohibition of trade) against Vietnam in 1994. President Bill Clinton—who had himself avoided serving in Vietnam because of his student status—was greatly helped in this effort by the support of the U.S. business community and three respected Senators who had served in Vietnam—John McCain (a former POW), John Kerry (a leader of Vietnam Veterans Against the War), and Bob Kerrey (who lost a leg in combat and received the Medal of Honor for his service). America established normal diplomatic ties with Vietnam one year later, in 1995.
Did you know . . .
- The American antiwar movement was a source of special pain to many POWs. Most of the prisoners fiercely defended U.S. involvement in Vietnam. Their belief that they were part of a noble mission helped them to endure the terrible prison conditions in which they lived. Understandably, then, they expressed intense dislike for the antiwar activists who claimed that America was engaged in an immoral war.
- Only one American soldier listed as missing in action in the Vietnam War has been found alive over the years. Robert Garwood was captured in South Vietnam in 1965 and reportedly spent the next two years as a prisoner. Garwood later claimed that he remained a prisoner throughout the war. Dozens of American POWs and combat troops, however, report that Garwood willingly joined the Communist forces in 1967. In 1979 Garwood returned to the United States. One year later he was convicted by a military court of assault on a POW and collaborating with the enemy. Since that time, he has repeatedly claimed that dozens of other American POWs were held captive in the North after the war. But most of these claims have been proven false, and many former POWs view him as an untrustworthy figure who betrayed his countrymen.
Denton, Jeremiah A. When Hell Was in Session. New York: Reader's Digest Press, 1976.
Franklin, H. Bruce. M.I.A. or Mythmaking in America. Brooklyn, NY: Lawrence Hill, 1992.
Hubbell, John, with Andrew Jones and Kenneth Y. Tomlinson. P.O.W.: ADefinitive History of the American Prisoner-of-War Experience in Vietnam, 1964–1973. New York: Reader's Digest Press, 1976.
Jensen-Stevenson, Monica, and William Stevenson. Kiss the Boys Goodbye:How the United States Betrayed Its Own POWs in Vietnam. New York: Dutton, 1990.
Keating, Susan Katz. Prisoners of Hope. New York: Random House, 1994.
Maurer, Harry. Strange Ground: Americans in Vietnam, 1945–1975, An OralHistory. New York: Henry Holt & Company, 1989.
Stockdale, James, and Sybil Stockdale. In Love and War. New York: Harper & Row, 1984.
The Geneva Conventions
The Geneva Conventions are a series of international agreements designed to protect wounded soldiers, prisoners, and civilians during times of war. As of the mid-1990s, 178 nations around the world had agreed to abide by the terms of these agreements.
The first Geneva Convention was adopted in 1864. This international law was created in response to grim accounts of the suffering that wounded soldiers endured during Italy's war of independence in 1859. It called for all nations to provide protection to sick and injured soldiers on the field of battle. This first convention is also credited with sparking the creation of the International Red Cross, a relief agency that continues to operate in war-torn regions of the world. The second Geneva Convention was passed in 1868. It expanded the rules of the first convention to include sailors wounded in battles at sea.
The third Geneva Convention was passed in 1929. This agreement instructed nations to recognize that prisoners of war (POWs) had certain basic rights such as medical care and adequate food and shelter. It called for prisoners to be treated humanely and released to their own people once a war ended. The fourth and last Geneva Convention was passed in 1949. This agreement replaced the first three conventions, providing additional guidance on the way in which wounded and captured soldiers should be treated. The 1949 convention also extended protection to civilians caught in war. In 1977 the international agreement amended the Geneva Convention of 1949 by extending protection to people caught up in civil wars and people engaged in violent conflicts that had not formally been declared as wars. People protected under these rules include journalists and religious, medical, and humanitarian aid personnel.
Con Son Prison and the Vietnamese "Tiger Cages"
During the course of the Vietnam War, South Vietnam used an old French colonial prison on Con Son Island as one of its primary jails. This prison, located about fifty miles off the coast of Vinh Binh province, held a wide range of prisoners, including captured Viet Cong guerrillas, North Vietnamese prisoners of war, and suspected political enemies of the government.
In 1970, however, Con Son Prison became a subject of intense controversy in the United States. At that time, a group of U.S. lawmakers who visited the facility reported that its prisoners were being badly mistreated and, in some cases, subjected to torture-like conditions. The Congressional delegation was particularly troubled by the widespread use of "tiger cages" at Con Son. These "tiger cages" were small cement cells in which prisoners were sometimes chained. Some prisoners were kept chained in these cramped cages for so long that they became paralyzed from the waist down. When the American lawmakers reported on the miserable conditions at Con Son, the prison was quickly cited by the U.S. antiwar movement as further evidence that the war in Vietnam was immoral.
James Stockdale (1923– )
Navy wing commander James Stockdale was stationed with the aircraft carrier USS Oriskany when he was shot down over North Vietnam on September 9, 1965, on his two-hundredth mission. His communist captors subjected him to years of torture and solitary confinement. But Stockdale resisted them throughout his captivity. On one occasion, he even tore his scalp to ribbons and bashed his own face in with a stool to prevent the Communists from filming a "confession" of his crimes. As the top-ranked naval officer in the North's POW camp system, Stockdale also organized other POW resistance efforts.
Stockdale was among the first POWs to return home in early 1973. After eight long years of captivity, he was finally reunited with his wife Sybil and his four young sons. Stockdale was promoted to rear admiral shortly after his return, and in 1976 he was awarded the prestigious Congressional Medal of Honor. "By his heroic action, at great peril to himself, he earned the everlasting gratitude of his fellow prisoners and of his country," stated the honor citation. In 1992 he served as the vice-presidential nominee for independent candidate H. Ross Perot in the presidential elections.