James Stockdale, Dead at 81:
Vice Admiral James Stockdale, Ross Perot's running mate in 1992, has passed away. The New York Times obituary is here. (Hat tip: Crescat)

  Admimal Stockdale may have been the most unusual vice Presidential candidate of a major nominee in recent history. In an interview with Jim Lehrer in 1999, transcript available here, Stockdale told the remarkable story of how he came to be Perot's running mate:
  Well, first of all, I was asked by Ross Perot on a telephone call in March of 1992 if, since he had committed on the Larry King Show to becoming a candidate for president, to get on all 50 ballots, he said, now, he said, you know, "I just now came across the information, and about half the states have to have, or demand to have the - the candidate's name at the start." Each state runs its own show on that, I'm sure. But anyway, he said, "What I want to ask you is for a favor." He said, "Would you let me put in your name as a stand-in candidate, and then as soon as I can get a real politician to join me, I'll let you know and we'll erase your name." And we got stuck in the mud somewhere.
  Perot never bothered to tell Stockdale that he would be participating in the vice Presidential debate (in which Stockdale famously asked "Who am I? Why am I here?"). Stockdale found out he would be in the debate about a week beforehand, when he happened to call Perot and mentioned the debate in passing. From the transcript of the interview:
  ADMIRAL JAMES STOCKDALE: . . . [A]bout a week before the debate I called Ross. I seldom called him, but in this case I said, "You know, I'm in luck. Nobody has ever mentioned that debate, and it's too late to invite me, and I think that's as it ought to be because I'm not a politician." He said, "Oh, Jim, I forgot to tell you. Your invitation came here about three weeks ago and we accepted for you, and I forgot to tell you." So that was the preparation.
  JIM LEHRER: So you never sat down with briefing books, or didn't discuss this with Ross Perot in any way whatsoever?
  ADMIRAL JAMES STOCKDALE: I never had a single conversation about politics with Ross Perot in my life; still haven't.
S. Obert (mail):
I am truly saddened by the loss of this great American hero.

The flippant way Ross Perot treated this man, as you point out, is truly a tragedy. But after reading the Navy's announcement of his death (below), I didn't think that Admiral Stockdale's association with him was important at all.

Stockdale's biography and additional photos are located on the following Web site:

...he is best remembered for his extraordinary leadership as the senior naval officer held in captivity during the Vietnam War. As commanding officer of Carrier Air Group Sixteen flying from the aircraft carrier the USS Oriskany, he was shot down while leading a mission Sept. 9, 1965.

During his 7½-year imprisonment, he was tortured numerous times, forced to wear vise-like heavy leg irons for two years and spent four years in solitary confinement. While imprisoned, he organized the prisoner culture in defiance of regulations forbidding prisoner communication and improvised a cohesive set of rules governing prisoner behavior. Codified in the acronym, BACK U.S. (Unity over Self), these rules gave prisoners a sense of hope, which many credited with giving them the strength to endure their ordeal.

Upon his release in 1973, Stockdale's extraordinary heroism becamewidely known and he was awarded the Medal of Honor in 1976. A portion of his citation reads: "Stockdale...deliberately inflicted a near mortal wound to his person in order to convince his captors of his willingness to give up his life rather than capitulate. He was subsequently discovered and revived by the North Vietnamese who, convinced of his indomitable spirit, abated their employment of excessive harassment and torture of all prisoners of war."

"Vice Adm. Jim Stockdale's legendary leadership and heroic service to the cause of freedom has been an inspiration to our nation," said Secretary of the
Navy Gordon England. "His courage and life stand as timeless examples of the power of faith and the strength of the human spirit. Our thoughts are with his devoted
family. America and our Navy are eternally grateful and will always remember him."

Upon his retirement from naval service, the secretary of the Navy established the Vice Admiral Stockdale Award for Inspirational Leadership presented annually in both Pacific and Atlantic Fleets. Stockdale held 26 combat awards including two Distinguished Flying Crosses, three Distinguished Service Medals, two Purple Hearts and four Silver Star Medals. He is a member of the Navy's Carrier
Hall of Fame, The National Aviation Hall of Fame and an Honorary Fellow of the Society of Experimental Test Pilots. He held 11 honorary doctoral degrees.
7.6.2005 3:52pm
It's a shame the man wound up as the butt of so many jokes after his truly distinguished career. As another commentator observed this morning, his only crime was that he wasn't good on television, something that you just can't get away with in America.

I remember tuning into that debate and realizing for the first time that Perot had a running mate. I'm sure millions of Americans had the exact same reaction. But until I read this blog post, I never realized that it was a shock to Adm. Stockdale as well. R.I.P.
7.6.2005 3:57pm
Doug M (mail) (www):
Like the posters above, I was disgusted by the way Perot treated Stockdale and the revelation from his book only reinforces that opinion. Even though he was woefully unprepared for that debate and was ridiculed in popular culture, the truth of the matter is that Adm. Stockdale was the most intelligent person on the stage that night.
7.6.2005 5:03pm
roaming gnome:
his famous quote, "Who am I? What am I doing here?" was quite noble in its modesty. he provides an important contrast with others who have recently tried to use their Vietnam service for their own purposes.
7.6.2005 5:23pm
Matt R (mail):
This is truly sad news, but I'm glad to finally know "the rest of the story" regarding the '92 debate.

I heard Admiral Stockdale speak at the Naval Academy when I was a midshipman (he was revered there, as you can imagine -- still is, I hope -- and it was standing room only), and I've spoken to several people who studied under him. My impression, and theirs, was that he was a fiercely intelligent and deeply thoughtful man. I was never able to reconcile that impression with the confused, unprepared man the country saw on stage in '92. I'm happy to finally be able to do so.

As to Ross Perot, well, I'm afraid I'm not surprised. I wrote him off long ago.
7.6.2005 7:05pm
Scott Moss (mail) (www):
I met Adm. Stockdale at the Hoover Institution in about '94. I'm embarassed to say I was surprised at how intelligent and coherent he was, given the debate performance I'd seen; I came within about an inch of voting for Perot in '92, but Stockdale scared me off. Anyhow, Adm. Stockdale mentioned (it was a pizza lunch with students like me) how he was forced to stay on the ticket because (I think this is right) he agreed to be the "interim" name, and then Perot wasn't running any longer, but then he did jump back in, by which point it was too late to replace Stockdale on the ballots. Stockdale had a tone of disbelief, as if he were saying, "did this really happen?" He deserved better.
7.6.2005 9:00pm
Alaska Jack (mail):
At Airman Leadersh School we watched a fantastic documentary about American POWs in Vietnam. It was titled "Return with Honor" and has a rating of 8.5 at the Internet Movie Database (go to and search for "Return with Honor," or try this link.

Adm. Stockdale is prominently featured.

- Alaska Jack
7.7.2005 3:02am
mcp (mail):
I also heard Adm Stockdale speak at USNA. It is no exageration to say he was a hero to us and he was well spoken and insightful. I also heard Ross Perot speak there as well. He was also very well thought of by mids becuase of his success as a businessman and rescue of his employees from Iran after the overthrow of the Shah. I suspect that was why Adm. Stockdale agreed to stand in as his running mate.

The fact that Perot made no effort to replace him might indicate that the whole excercise was an ego boost. Sad that this is how the Admiral will be remembered by many.
7.7.2005 3:53am
I remember the '92 election and regardless of his debate performance, he seemed like a decent, honest, guy. The lack of a honed TV performance made him seem more real. The Hero designator wasn't any stretch of the imagination. And, like a real hero, he didn't have to say it for people to know it.

Makes me wish more real, mature, honest people would run for high office. But they'd never make it through the political buzzsaw. RIP, sir.
7.7.2005 8:39am