(Senate - December 09, 2003)

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[Pages S16110-S16111]
From the Congressional Record Online through the Government Publishing Office []


 Mr. ALLEN. Mr. President, I am pleased today to recognize the 
outstanding work of the Reserve Officers' Training Corps cadets at the 
University of Virginia who participated in a 24-hour vigil on September 
15-16, 2003 in honor of National POW/MIA Remembrance Day. The POW/MIA 
Vigil specifically honors those men and women who defended our nation 
and never returned with a 24-hour, tri-service honor ceremony.
  The ROTC cadets at the University of Virginia started their POW/MIA 
vigils in 2000 when Air Force cadet Elizabeth McGraw served as Arnold 
Air Society Deputy Commander. Subsequent vigils were commanded by Cadet 
Christopher Tulip in 2001, Cadet Tara Graul in 2002, and Cadet Jeremy 
Porto in 2003.
  This year's Vigil planning committee included Cadets James Hayne, 
Joshua Becker, Alina Sullivan, Dan Barton, and Nic Skirpan. U.S. Air 
Force Colonel John C. Vrba, commander of AFROTC Detachment 890 at 
Virginia, supervised the ceremony, which began with a solemn precision 
drill performance by members of the AFROTC Drill Team: Cadets Suzanne 
Hahl, Jacklyn Noveras, Brandon Bert, Timothy Farwell, and James Hayne. 
Air Force and Army Cadets, and Navy Midshipmen from the three ROTC 
detachments then marched in solemn 15 minute ``honor shifts'' guarding 
the American flag which was displayed prominently on the back wall of 
the University of Virginia's Amphitheater.
  One of the MIAs that these young Cadets honored was U.S. Army Captain 
Humbert Roque ``Rocky'' Versace, a 1959 graduate of the U.S. Military 
Academy at West Point. On July 8, 2002, I had the distinct honor of 
being present at the White House for the posthumous awarding of the 
Medal of Honor by President George W. Bush for Rocky's conspicuous 
gallantry at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty 
while a captive of the Viet Cong from October 29, 1965, until he was 
executed on or about September 26, 1965. His captors took his life 
after they had given up trying to break Rocky's indomitable will to 
resist interrogation and indoctrination, his unshakable faith in God, 
and his steadfast trust in his country and his fellow prisoners.
  When I visited the White House last year for Captain Versace's Medal 
of Honor ceremony, I was among many of Captain Versace's West Point 
classmates and family members. One of those classmates was John Gurr, 

[[Page S16111]]

worked tirelessly to get approval for the creation of the Captain Rocky 
Versace Memorial Plaza and Vietnam Veterans Memorial in the Captain's 
boyhood neighborhood in the Del Ray section of Alexandria.
  At the conclusion of this year's POW/MIA Vigil, Mr. Gurr made a 
powerful speech to the UVA ROTC cadets on the great history of honor by 
Vietnam POWs, which produced five Medal of Honor recipients, and made 
Rocky Versace the only Army POW to receive the Medal of Honor for his 
heroism while in captivity during the Vietnam War.
  Mr. President, I'd like to enter John Gurr's inspiring words as an 
extension of my remarks:

       I am indeed grateful for this opportunity to speak for my 
     comrades in arms and I would thank you for this opportunity 
     were it not axiomatic in the military profession that you 
     never thank a soldier for doing his duty. You can commend him 
     or her, and I herewith commend wholeheartedly the ROTC cadet 
     corps of the University of Virginia for the vigil you have 
     mounted in memory of our nation's POWs and MIAs. It was your 
     duty to do so, and you did it well. I will share with you up 
     front that I came to this amphitheater last night at around 
     0200 to witness your vigil for myself. I stood in the deep 
     background for over a half an hour and watched your 
     sentinels, and I thought about what message I will carry to 
     you today.
       Here it is in a nutshell, young men and women: the heroic 
     legacies of our fighting men and women, most certainly 
     including those men who suffered so terribly yet endured with 
     honor in the torture chambers of the Vietnamese communist 
     forces, the heroic legacies of those predecessors are soon to 
     pass to you. Be ready, because they are sacred. Duty, Honor, 
     Country. Duty--be professionally ready, do your duty well; do 
     something extra. Honor--guard and cherish your personal 
     honor. Country--stand ready to ever defend this great 
     democracy, which is a unique bastion in a dangerous world.
       A bit of background on the POW situation as it developed 
     and ended in Vietnam. There were 771 Americans captured or 
     interned in the Vietnam War, far, far fewer than in any of 
     our major interventions since World War I. 113 of them--
     almost 15%--died in captivity. The vast majority of POWs were 
     officers, most of them aviators shot down in the north, and 
     the vast majority of them were held in North Vietnam. There 
     were some 19 such prison camps, where a rough total of some 
     550 men were held. In the north, brutal tortures were the 
     rule, and the death rate was about 5%.
       In the much smaller and equally scattered prison camps in 
     South Vietnam and Laos, hunger and disease and brutality were 
     common, but torture was much less systematic. Even so, the 
     death rate in the southern camps was about 20%--four times 
     higher than in the north where food and medical care and the 
     support of fellow prisoners made the chances of survival 
       As to the purpose of torture in the northern camps, let me 
     quote from Vice Admiral James Bond Stockdale, who suffered 
     7\1/2\ years in captivity there and was the ranking man in 
     the camps. I quote from his ``Afterword'' in the famed book 
     Honor Bound which details the experiences of American POWs in 
     Southeast Asia:
       ``I was the only wing commander in that long war to lead 
     prisoner resistance and therefore the natural target for 
     Major Bui--`The Cat'--Commissar of the North Vietnamese 
     prison camps. The business of the Commissar was extortion. He 
     had to continually intimidate--to break--a number of POWs so 
     that he had Americans at the ready to parade before press 
     conferences for foreign `dignitaries' (often Americans from 
     the anti-war movement) and to exploit for propaganda 
     statements favorable to the communist agenda. Our job was to 
     hold out as long as we could, to make it difficult for The 
     Cat to exploit us. To do this, he hired experienced `torture 
     guards' who in 40 minutes or so, with bars and ropes, could 
     reduce a self-respecting American officer to a sobbing 
       Admiral Stockdale and his fellow prisoners in the north 
     early decided that their goal was to resist as best they 
     could and return to the U.S. with honor. I say again, ``with 
     honor.'' Thus the title of the book from which I quote, 
     ``Honor Bound.'' The American POWs were ``Honor Bound.'' 
     Under circumstances that will draw a tear if you understand. 
     Admiral Stockdale was awarded the Congressional Medal of 
     Honor upon his return. Duty well done, Admiral! Well done!
       As to the prisoners in South Vietnam, I will speak with an 
     indirect credibility of the experience of a West Point 
     classmate of mine, Captain ``Rocky'' Versace. I will speak 
     with a passion because ``Rocky'' was a friend of mine, and 
     he, too, won the Congressional Medal of Honor for his 
     resistance and leadership as a prisoner of war. A difference 
     is that Versace was executed for his stubborn, and often even 
     argumentative and aggressive resistance to the communist 
     effort to break him for propaganda purposes. The Medal of 
     Honor was presented posthumously, to ``Rocky's'' family in 
     the White House on July 8, 2002, in the presence of 250 
     people which included 89 of his West Point classmates. As we 
     said to ourselves at the time, ``We came for you `Rocky.' We 
     were late, but we came.'' ``Rocky'' Versace's story is one of 
     a young man of exceptional physical endurance and truly 
     extraordinary mental toughness. He was deeply religious, and 
     he had come to love and admire the South Vietnamese people 
     for whom and alongside whom he had fought for almost 18 
     months before he was severely wounded in battle and captured 
     in October 1963. For the first five months of his captivity 
     in the Delta of South Vietnam he was held in a small camp 
     with only two other American prisoners. Successive teams of 
     Viet Cong indoctrinators sought to break ``Rocky,'' to get 
     him to make statements rejecting the South Vietnamese effort 
     to resist a communist takeover, and they tried to get him to 
     make recordings or quick movies opposing America's 
     intervention on behalf of the South Vietnamese forces. Fluent 
     in Vietnamese and French, he argued so credibly with his 
     indoctrinators that they had to switch to English because 
     they began to notice that the enlisted communist guards were 
     starting to nod their heads in agreement with some of 
     ``Rocky's'' rebuttals. ``Rocky's'' fellow prisoners heard him 
     say in one of the indoctrination sessions ``You can make me 
     come here, and you can make me listen, but frankly I don't 
     believe a word you say and you can go to hell.'' On another 
     occasion they heard him say ``I know that if I am true to 
     myself and to my God, that something better awaits in the 
     hereafter. So you might as well kill me now.''
       ``Rocky'' attempted escape four times and was captured, 
     beaten and leg-ironed in a stifling bamboo cage after each 
     such unsuccessful attempt. Only three weeks after his capture 
     and on his first attempt, he had to drag himself through the 
     jungle on his belly because he had taken three rounds in his 
     right leg in the battle in which he'd been captured, and he 
     could not walk. As a captain and the ranking man in his POW 
     camp, he sought to encourage his somewhat separated fellow 
     prisoners by singing ``God Bless America'' and other popular 
     or patriotic songs, frequently inserting a stray word or two 
     to communicate with his men. ``Rocky'' set the example, and 
     he took the heat off his fellow prisoners.
       After five months, ``Rocky'' was deemed to be an 
     incorrigible propaganda prospect, and he was taken from the 
     camp and held in isolation. That's where he was held for the 
     last 18 months of his 23-month captivity. Alone, emaciated by 
     hunger and disease, his head swollen and yellow from 
     jaundice. There were occasional reports during that time from 
     villagers who said that ``Rocky'' was frequently led or 
     dragged through their villages as a sad example of what the 
     American fighting man looked like. Even so, they said that 
     ``Rocky'' sometimes interrupted the propaganda diatribes in 
     the village centers, refuting and embarrassing his captors in 
     his fluent Vietnamese. He was beaten, and one report said 
     that, as he went down, he smiled. ``Rocky'' Versace was a 
       He was executed in September 1965, ending not only his life 
     but his imminent plan to leave the Army and return to South 
     Vietnam as a Maryknoll missionary. He had been accepted to 
     become a priest-candidate at the Maryknoll Order in 
     Tarrytown, NY. But he never made it there.
       Thus ended the life of a decent man, a courageous and 
     unbreakable soldier, and now the only Army man to get the 
     Medal of Honor for conduct as a POW during the Vietnam War.
       And now let's turn to you. What you've just heard is a part 
     of your legacy. You must not let it down. Last night there 
     was just one old soldier sitting there in the back of this 
     amphitheater, watching you, watching your vigil, and 
     witnessing the changing of the guard. In a few short months 
     or years, your turn will come to bear the mantle of Duty, 
     Honor, Country. And there will be a ghostly phalanx of old 
     soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines who will always, I 
     repeat ``always,'' be watching you. You cannot fall short of 
     the standard that has been set.
       I appreciate this opportunity to speak for my past and 
     present comrades, we commend you for doing your duty so well, 
     and my last words to you are:
       Be ready. Be ready.

  Mr. President, I would like to commend John Gurr and the ROTC cadets 
at the University of Virginia for their dedicated service to our Nation 
and for their work to honor those like Captain Rocky Versace who paid 
the ultimate sacrifice in defense of America and its ideals. I wish 
them Godspeed as they stand strong for freedom.