Admiral Stockdale was born on December 23, 1923 in Abingon, Illinois. After graduating from the Naval Academy in 1946, he attended flight training in Pensacola, FL and in 1954 was accepted to the Navy Test Pilot School where he served as an instructor for a brief time. Stockdale's flying career took him west, and in 1962 he earned a Master's Degree in International Relations from Stanford University.
On September 9, 1965 while returning from a mission, his A-4 Skyhawk was hit by anti-aircraft fire. Stockdale ejected, breaking a bone in his back and badly dislocating his knee. Stockdale wound up in Hoa Lo Prison, the infamous "Hanoi Hilton", where he spent the next seven years. Despite being kept in solitary confinement for four years, in leg irons for two years, physically tortured more than 15 times, denied medical care and malnourished, Stockdale organized a system of communication and developed a cohesive set of rules governing prisoner behavior.
The the spring of 1969 he was 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 knowing that his captors would not display a prisoner who was disfigured. Later, after discovering that some prisoners had died during torture, he slashed his wrists to demonstrate to his captors that he preferred death to submission. This act so convinced the Vietnamese of his determination to die rather than to cooperate that the Communists ceased the torture of American prisoners and gradually improved their treatment of POWs. He was released from prison in 1973. He was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor by President Gerald Ford in 1976. He was one of the most highly decorated officers in the history of the Navy, wearing twenty six personal combat decorations, including two Distinguished Flying Crosses, three Distinguished Service Medals, two Purple Hearts, and four Silver Star medals in addition to the Medal of Honor. He was the only three star Admiral in the history of the Navy to wear both aviator wings and the Medal of Honor.
After serving as the President of the Naval War College, Stockdale retired from the Navy in 1978. He published a number of books and articles and was awarded eleven honorary doctoral degrees. In 1992 he agreed to the request from H. Ross Perot to stand in as the vice presidential candidate of the Reform Party.
Upon his retirement in 1979, the Secretary of the Navy established the Vice Admiral Stockdale Award for the Inspirational Leadership presented annually in both the Pacific and Atlantic fleet. Admiral Stockdale was a member of the Navy's Carrier Hall of Fame and The National Aviation Hall of Fame, and he was an Honorary Fellow in the Society of Experimental Test Pilots.
Bio (abr.) and photograph courtesy of admiralstockdale.com.