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If you like James Stockdale's story, you might also like:
Tom Clancy,
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Daniel Inouye,
William McRaven,
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James Stockdale
James Stockdale
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James Stockdale Interview

Medal of Honor

July 28, 2001
San Diego, California

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  James Stockdale

It's a great pleasure to be speaking with you, Admiral.

James Stockdale: Thank you.

Let's go to September 9, 1965, when you were shot down over North Vietnam.

James Stockdale: A lot happened before that, it wasn't just happenstance. As soon as that was over, I had got wind that I was going to get orders to leave the Ticonderoga to become the CAG of the USS Oriskany.

What is the CAG?

James Stockdale: Air Group Commander. He owns all the airplanes, flies them all, they're all his. Of course, he obeys the captain [of the ship], but everything with wings on it belongs to him. There were about 70 or 80 airplanes over there and there were about 1,000 men and 100 pilots. I had an F-8 Marine squadron and an F-8 Navy squadron, and the exec of the Marine Corps, Major Ed Ruddy, came up to me one day and he said, "You know, we're doing all this bombing of the An Wa bridge and we're losing aviators right and left." He said what I knew. I'd been out there years before. That was the biggest capital building assignment ever taken over by North Vietnam. They just roughly doubled the strength of everything. He was right. Five hundred-pound bombs were not going to phase that thing.

James Stockdale Interview Photo
James Stockdale Interview Photo

We were going against that bridge and I noticed that we were losing about two A-4s for every F-8 over the last weeks and I started flying in A-4s for morale purposes. Pump 'em up, you know? Not for the reason because I could fly the crusader blindfolded backwards, but I told the skipper, Chuck Loudon, that his exec and he and the whole VMF-212 had done a brilliant job bringing this new weapon into being, "and for this last flight before we go into Hong Kong I want you to take all your F-8s" -- we planned on using just about one squadron of them -- "and I'm not going to be in an F-8. I'm going to be back leading six A-4s in flak suppression. I'll go ahead of them and bomb and shoot the gunner, see." We got out and everything worked. We got the A-4s to tag the F-8s and we had a search plane that we sent ahead to give us a weather report when we got to the coast. And he said, "It's zero-zero at the bridge." Zero visibility up and sideways. So I took my friend with me who was in an A-4, and the two of us went up not to throw our bombs into the water, but to throw them into a railroad yard (at An Wa bridge).

We'd come in low and put a snake-eye fixture on a snake eye bomb. That meant as soon as it felt itself released, it would have a shield come up to slow it down so we wouldn't be getting hit with our own shrapnel. Now that's the kind of stuff you have to work with all the time, but even with all that, I could hear boom, boom, boom, boom. This little engine is right there. The cockpit is no wider than that, and it's very noisy inside, but I looked right there and I saw that damn plane and I thought ,"There's my Armageddon." And it was fireballs coming at me one after the other. And then now everything is out. The engine is shot up, the hydraulics are gone, and I've just got to get out of the airplane and I did. I didn't have my lip mike on. I had to get it up and say, "I'm going to eject."

[ Key to Success ] Courage

Admiral, wouldn't that make you an easy target for ground fire? Floating right into enemy hands?

It never got above 1,000 feet even with the trajectory, and I was low and I was going right into this little town. Straight -- it was a town that I could imagine being very similar to the places I saw in Illinois, a town of about 800 people with one thoroughfare and that's it. They're farmers or rice people or whatever. And I landed and got myself on deck, flipped off my protective -- the thing that held my parachute on -- and then I looked up and I had seen traces of this -- A thundering herd was coming down on me. All probably between 18 and 24. They were going to defend the honor of their town.

[ Key to Success ] Courage

They racked me up and it was the quarterback sack of the century!

They pounded me, twisted me, they were zealous and pretty soon I was -- I didn't know what was happening to me because my face was in the dirt but everything was happening to me. And then finally a police whistle blew. That was about four minutes later. And they all backed off after that happened and then the guy with the police whistle had a pith helmet, and he gave me the motion to stand up and I couldn't get up because this leg was not where it is now but it was right out there.

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This page last revised on Feb 07, 2008 13:35 EDT
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