Steven Versace, Rocky Versace's brother, accepts the Medal of Honor


MEDAL OF HONOR CITATION


(Note: Presented posthumously at the White House by President Bush on Monday, 8 July 2002)


The President of the United States of America, authorized by Act of Congress, March 3, 1863, has awarded in the name of The Congress the Medal of Honor to

CAPTAIN HUMBERT R. VERSACE
UNITED STATES ARMY


for conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty:

Captain Humbert R. Versace distinguished himself by extraordinary heroism during the period of 29 October 1963 to 26 September 1965, while serving as S-2 Advisor, Military Assistance Advisory Group, Detachment 52, Ca Mau, Republic of Vietnam. While accompanying a Civilian Irregular Defense Group patrol engaged in combat operations in Thoi Binh District, An Xuyen Province, Captain Versace and the patrol came under sudden and intense mortar, automatic weapons, and small arms fire from elements of a heavily armed enemy battalion. As the battle raged, Captain Versace, although severely wounded in the knee and back by hostile fire, fought valiantly and continued to engage enemy targets. Weakened by his wounds and fatigued by the fierce firefight, Captain Versace stubbornly resisted capture by the over-powering Viet Cong force with the last full measure of his strength and ammunition. Taken prisoner by the Viet Cong, he exemplified the tenets of the Code of Conduct from the time he entered into Prisoner of War status. Captain Versace assumed command of his fellow American soldiers, scorned the enemy's exhaustive interrogation and indoctrination efforts, and made three unsuccessful attempts to escape, despite his weakened condition which was brought about by his wounds and the extreme privation and hardships he was forced to endure. During his captivity, Captain Versace was segregated in an isolated prisoner of war cage, manacled in irons for prolonged periods of time, and placed on extremely reduced ration. The enemy was unable to break his indomitable will, his faith in God, and his trust in the United States of America. Captain Versace, an American fighting man who epitomized the principles of his country and the Code of Conduct, was executed by the Viet Cong on 26 September 1965. Captain Versace's gallant actions in close contact with an enemy force and unyielding courage and bravery while a prisoner of war are in the highest traditions of the military service and reflect the utmost credit upon himself and the United States Army.



President Awards Posthumous Medal of Honor to Vietnam War Hero

Remarks by the President at Presentation of Medal of Honor
The East Room

July 8, 2002, 3:07 P.M. EDT

THE PRESIDENT: Good afternoon, and welcome to the White House. It's a -- this is a special occasion. I am honored to be a part of the gathering as we pay tribute to a true American patriot, and a hero, Captain Humbert "Rocky" Versace.

Nearly four decades ago, his courage and defiance while being held captive in Vietnam cost him his life. Today it is my great privilege to recognize his extraordinary sacrifices by awarding him the Medal of Honor.

I appreciate Secretary Anthony Principi, the Secretary from the Department of Veteran Affairs, for being here. Thank you for coming, Tony. I appreciate Senator George Allen and Congressman Jim Moran. I want to thank Paul Wolfowitz, the Deputy Secretary of Defense; and General Pete Pace, Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs; Army General Eric Shinseki -- thank you for coming, sir. I appreciate David Hicks being here. He's the Deputy Chief of Chaplains for the United States Army.

I want to thank the entire Versace family for coming -- three brothers and a lot of relatives. Brothers, Dick and Mike and Steve, who's up here on the stage with me today. I appreciate the classmates and friends and supporters of Rocky for coming. I also want to thank the previous Medal of Honor recipients who are here with us today. That would be Harvey Barnum and Brian Thacker and Roger Donlon. Thank you all for coming.

Rocky grew up in this area and attended Gonzaga College High School, right here in Washington, D.C. One of his fellow soldiers recalled that Rocky was the kind of person you only had to know a few weeks before you felt like you'd known him for years. Serving as an intelligence advisor in the Mekong Delta, he quickly befriended many of the local citizens. He had that kind of personality. During his time there he was accepted into the seminary, with an eye toward eventually returning to Vietnam to be able to work with orphans.

Rocky was also a soldier's soldier -- a West Point graduate, a Green Beret, who lived and breathed the code of duty and honor and country. One of Rocky's superiors said that the term "gung-ho" fit him perfectly. Others remember his strong sense of moral purpose and unbending belief in his principles.

As his brother Steve once recalled, "If he thought he was right, he was a pain in the neck." (Laughter.) "If he knew he was right, he was absolutely atrocious." (Laughter.)

When Rocky completed his one-year tour of duty, he volunteered for another tour. And two weeks before his time was up, on October the 29th, 1963, he set out with several companies of South Vietnamese troops, planning to take out a Viet Cong command post. It was a daring mission, and an unusually dangerous one for someone so close to going home to volunteer for.

After some initial successes, a vastly larger Viet Kong force ambushed and overran Rocky's unit. Under siege and suffering from multiple bullet wounds, Rocky kept providing covering fire so that friendly forces could withdraw from the killing zone.

Eventually, he and two other Americans, Lieutenant Nick Rowe and Sergeant Dan Pitzer, were captured, bound and forced to walk barefoot to a prison camp deep within the jungle. For much of the next two years, their home would be bamboo cages, six feet long, two feet wide, and three feet high. They were given little to eat, and little protection against the elements. On nights when their netting was taken away, so many mosquitos would swarm their shackled feet it looked like they were wearing black socks.

The point was not merely to physically torture the prisoners, but also to persuade them to confess to phony crimes and use their confessions for propaganda. But Rocky's captors clearly had no idea who they were dealing with. Four times he tried to escape, the first time crawling on his stomach because his leg injuries prevented him from walking. He insisted on giving no more information than required by the Geneva Convention; and cited the treaty, chapter and verse, over and over again.

He was fluent in English, French and Vietnamese, and would tell his guards to go to hell in all three. Eventually the Viet Cong stopped using French and Vietnamese in their indoctrination sessions, because they didn't want the sentries or the villagers to listen to Rocky's effective rebuttals to their propaganda. Rocky knew precisely what he was doing. By focusing his captors' anger on him, he made life a measure more tolerable for his fellow prisoners, who looked to him as a role model of principled resistance.

Eventually the Viet Cong separated Rocky from the other prisoners. Yet even in separation, he continued to inspire them. The last time they heard his voice, he was singing "God Bless America" at the top of his lungs.

On September the 26th, 1965, Rocky's struggle ended his execution. In his too short life, he traveled to a distant land to bring the hope of freedom to the people he never met. In his defiance and later his death, he set an example of extraordinary dedication that changed the lives of his fellow soldiers who saw it firsthand. His story echoes across the years, reminding us of liberty's high price, and of the noble passion that caused one good man to pay that price in full.

Last Tuesday would have been Rocky's 65th birthday. So today, we award Rocky -- Rocky Versace -- the first Medal of Honor given to an Army POW for actions taken during captivity in Southeast Asia. We thank his family for so great a sacrifice. And we commit our country to always remember what Rocky gave -- to his fellow prisoners, to the people of Vietnam, and to the cause of freedom.
 



A Mission Inspired By a POW's Persistence
Monday 8 July 2002
By Steve Vogel

Rocky Versace's friends will be there today at the White House. The high school buddies from Alexandria who decided they had to do something to honor Versace, dead now 37 years. The postal worker from Cleveland galvanized after reading about Versace's ordeals. The members of the West Point Class of 1959 who picked up the fight for their classmate. The family he left behind.

Versace, an Army captain from Alexandria executed by his Viet Cong captors in 1965, when he was 27, is to be posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor today by President Bush for the extraordinary resistance he displayed under terribly cruel conditions. He will become the first Army soldier to receive the award for his actions while in captivity, defense historians say.

That Versace is now being honored is due in no small measure to those relentless friends.

"The effort to get this guy the medal was itself heroic and displayed the same kind of persistance that Rocky had," said Stuart Rochester, deputy historian for the Pentagon and co-author of a history of POWs in Southeast Asia.

They faced daunting odds: The fact that Versace is the first soldier so honored reflects a stigma within the Army to being a prisoner of war, defense officials say. Versace also was a victim of the politics of the Vietnam War. Finally, the two soldiers who were held captive with Versace died in the intervening years, making corroboration of his heroism more difficult.

Today's ceremony culminates a series of events over the Independence Day weekend that brought Versace belated recognition.

On Saturday, in the neighborhood where Versace grew up, several hundred people turned out for the dedication of the Captain Rocky Versace Plaza and Vietnam Veterans Memorial, in honor of all 65 Alexandrians killed in the war.

"Rocky was our friend. He was a soldier," retired Army Brig. Gen. Pete Dawkins, a West Point classmate of Versace's, said in the keynote address. "He was killed because honor, duty and country meant more to him than life."

Versace's father, Humbert Versace, died brokenhearted within a few years of his son's death, and his mother, author Tere Versace, never stopped believing her son would emerge from the jungle. She died in 1999. For those remaining -- including his brother, Dick Versace, an NBA general manager -- grief has now been tempered by gratitude.

"One of the things that has been continually amazing to me is how this has captured so many imaginations and so much energy," said another brother, Stephen Versace, a University of Maryland administrator. "People have actually put their lives on hold to make this happen."

He thinks he knows why: "It's the memory of Rocky and what he went through."

Humbert Roque Versace was less than two weeks from leaving Vietnam when he was taken prisoner. Versace, raised in a Catholic family in the Del Ray neighborhood of Alexandria, had been accepted into the priesthood and planned to return to Vietnam as a missionary for children.

Serving as an intelligence adviser for the South Vietnamese army, Versace was captured along with two other Americans in October 1963 near U Minh Forest and held within the mangrove and swamps of the Viet Cong stronghold. He tried to escape four times and resisted all attempts to be indoctrinated by the Viet Cong and, for this, was often kept in irons and gagged inside a bamboo cage.

"He told them to go to hell in Vietnamese, French and English," one of Versace's fellow captives, Dan Pitzer, who died in 1997, told an oral historian. "He got a lot of pressure and torture, but he held his path."

Versace, his head swollen, his hair white and skin yellowed by jaundice, was pulled around villages with a rope tied around his neck by his angry captors. Villagers were astounded by his defiance, according to Jack Nicholson, a retired Army officer who searched for Versace.

In September 1965, Hanoi Radio announced that Versace had been executed in retaliation for the killing of suspected communist sympathizers.

Another prisoner who had been held with Versace, James "Nick" Rowe, escaped in 1968 after five years of captivity. Meeting privately with President Richard M. Nixon the following year, Rowe requested that Versace receive the Medal of Honor, describing how the captain had deflected punishment from other captives.

Nixon hugged Rowe and told liaison officers to "make damn sure" that Versace receive the medal, one of the officers, retired Col. Ray Nutter, said in an interview last year.

The Army would issue Versace only a Silver Star. While the other services approved Medals of Honor for POWs, there was resistance in the Army to awarding prisoners. The decision also reflected a desire not to highlight casualties, owing to the antiwar climate in the United States. "There was an attempt to play it down for political reasons," Rochester said.

Rowe kept telling Versace's story until 1989, when he was assassinated by communist rebels while serving in the Philippines as a U.S. military adviser to that country.


But others kept Versace's memory alive. A group of Alexandria high school friends, some of whom had known Versace as boys and gathered once a month for a book club, picked up the mantle.

"It started with these guys who'd get together and drink beer and talk about books on Civil War history," said Stephen Versace. At a gathering in early 1999, talk turned to a school Alexandria was building at Cameron Station, a former Army installation. Somebody said naming the school after Rocky would be appropriate.

The Friends of Rocky Versace was born. Soon supporters were at grocery store parking lots circulating petitions. "We really did not know what to say to them," said Alexandria City Council member David G. Speck (D). "Frankly, they seemed a little flaky, and we assumed they would gradually go away."

They did not. They soon made a critical alliance with Versace's West Point classmates and linked up with other Versace supporters, among them Duane Frederic, a Cleveland postal worker who had read Rowe's book about his captivity, "Five Years to Freedom," and had been struck by Versace's actions.

"I'm one of these people who wants to know the rest of the story," Frederic said.

Frederic traveled to the National Archives and other information repositories, spending hundreds of hours and thousands of dollars to hunt for records and corroborating information in a quest to honor a man he had never known.

"He became Rocky's historian," Stephen Versace said.

Among the critical pieces he uncovered were interrogations of North Vietnamese defectors telling of Versace's resistance and the consternation it caused his captors.

At the Army Special Forces Command at Fort Bragg, N.C., where Rowe's talks about Versace's heroism had made a deep impression on many officers, Maj. Bobby Seals was ordered by superiors in 1998 to revive the Medal of Honor effort. "Honestly, I looked at it, and I thought, 'There's no way. The three guys who were in the POW camp were all dead. How the hell are we going to pull this off?' " Seals said.

But using the information compiled by Frederic, a new Medal of Honor package was submitted to the Pentagon by the Special Forces Command in January 2000. Influential members of West Point's Class of 1959 privately pushed the nomination with senior Army officers.

The nomination still faced a struggle at the Pentagon. "It was apparently a close call because of the lack of corroborating evidence," Rochester said.

But the corroboration dug up by Special Forces and Frederic, and the campaign waged by the classmates and Friends of Rocky Versace, proved decisive. In January 2001, the Army approved the package.

In the meantime, the school-naming effort in Alexandria was defeated, but it evolved into the memorial plaza at the Mount Vernon Recreation Center on Commonwealth Avenue. Speaking to civic groups, holding bike washes and passing out information at the Alexandria Farmer's Market, Friends of Rocky Versace raised $250,000 for the memorial.

"Almost everyone they talked to would get roped in," Stephen Versace said.

One of those roped in was Speck, the skeptical council member who would become the memorial's leading proponent. Speaking at Saturday's dedication, Speck said, "I have never felt so fulfilled as to be part of this glorious endeavor."

At the dedication, a moment of silence honored Gary Smith, a member of Friends of Rocky Versace who was killed in the Sept. 11 attack on the Pentagon. At another event Saturday, Frederic and Mike Faber, president of Friends of Rocky Versace, were made honorary members of the Class of 1959, with more than 80 classmates in attendance.

"The more people who got involved with Rocky's story, the more compelling it became," Faber said. "The way he honored his commitment to our country, you can't help but be amazed by Rocky."


The Washington Times

MEDAL OF HONOR

Special Report

4 July 2002

By Ellen Sorokin



Army Capt. Benjamin L. Salomon earned the respect of his fellow soldiers long before they found him bent over a barrel of a machine gun on a World War II battlefield in the Marianas Islands, his hand still on the trigger.

Capt. Salomon was a dentist serving as a surgeon with the 27th Infantry Division when his unit invaded Saipan. He was at his battalion's aid station on July 8, 1944, when 5,000 Japanese soldiers attacked his unit. Capt. Salomon killed several enemy soldiers as they tried to enter the aid station. Then, he ordered his fellow soldiers to evacuate the tent and carry away the wounded. "I'll hold them off until you get them to safety," he was last heard shouting. "See you later."

He replaced a dead two-man machine-gun crew and single-handedly killed 98 Japanese soldiers. He was shot 24 times before he fell and more than 50 times after that.

"We never even got a Purple Heart," his father once said years after his son's death.

 Fifty-eight years later, the young dentist's acts of heroism were officially recognized when President Bush in May awarded Capt. Salomon the Medal of Honor, the nation's highest military decoration for bravery or self-sacrifice above and beyond the call of duty.

"No one who knew him is with us this afternoon," Mr. Bush said during the May 1 ceremony in the White House Rose Garden. "Yet America will always know Benjamin Lewis Salomon by the citation that will be read shortly. It tells of one young man who was the match for 100, a person of true valor, who now receives the honor due to him from a grateful country."
     
One of many

Capt. Salomon's story is one of many cases in which veterans receive recognition for their heroic wartime efforts years after they die. Over the last decade, 41 war veterans received the medal, 29 of whom received it posthumously.

There are 3,458 Medal of Honor recipients, and of those, only 143 are alive, according to statistics compiled by the Congressional Medal of Honor Society.

It was during World War II that, for the first time, more Medals of Honor were awarded to those who died in battle than to those who survived. The same holds true in Korea and Vietnam.

"If the Medal of Honor today has an intangible and solemn halo around it, it is partly due to those men who did not survive to wear it," writes Allen Mikaelian in his book "Medal of Honor." "The survivors who wear the medal frequently acknowledge this. They very rarely speak of glory, preferring instead to speak simply of their immense gratitude."

Why the delay?

Lost paperwork or too few eyewitnesses who could attest to a soldier's heroic deeds, Defense Department officials say. In some cases, particularly those that involve prisoners of war, Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests can slow the process.

"You can get pretty discouraged on a number of occasions," said Mike Faber, who spent the last four years campaigning for a Medal of Honor for the late POW Rocky Versace. "But it should be a difficult process. This is the Medal of Honor we're talking about here, and it should be a hard process."

Defense Department officials said this week it all depends on the circumstances surrounding the heroic actions and the ability to formulate those into a case for the medal.

"Awards do take time," a Defense Department official said. "It is something the Defense Department takes very seriously, combining our desire to recognize the service and sacrifice of service members with the judicious application of policies. In that way, we can recognize the deserving, maximize the value to morale and preserve the value of the award itself."

Implemented in 1861, the Medal of Honor is the highest award for valor in action against an enemy force that can be bestowed upon an individual serving in the armed services of the United States.

The medals hang from blue ribbons, each ending in a "knot" embroidered with 13 stars. The Air Force and Army medals hang from a bar that reads "Valor," and the Navy medal is suspended from an anchor.

Deserving it

No one ever doubted that Capt. Salomon deserved the Medal of Honor, but it took more than half a century for it to be awarded to him. Many people tried to get Capt. Salomon his due, but paperwork was misplaced, and the Army couldn't find enough eyewitnesses to the deeds.

Then, in 1997, Dr. Robert West, a man whom Capt. Salomon had never met, undertook a massive letter-writing campaign to get the late captain the recognition he deserved.

"I more or less became obsessed with this case," Dr. West said in an interview last week. "I just couldn't let it go."

Soon after the action in Saipan ended, Capt. Salomon's commander nominated him to receive the medal. However, the paperwork stopped after his division officials strictly interpreted a Geneva Convention rule that prohibited medical personnel from receiving valor awards.

Dr. West, a World War II veteran and dentist from Calabasas, Calif., learned of Capt. Salomon's heroic efforts two years earlier while researching notable alumni for the University of California's centennial celebration. Capt. Salomon was a 1937 graduate of the university's dental school.

During his research, Dr. West found that the posthumous award was denied because of an error, not a technicality. Dr. West had discovered that the commanding general reviewing Capt. Salomon's recommendation for a medal misunderstood the Geneva Convention rule.

The rule states that medical personnel were prohibited from bearing arms against enemy troops for offensive purposes, but they could bear arms in self-defense or in defense of the wounded or sick. That meant, Dr. West found out, that medical personnel could receive valor awards if those such as Capt. Salomon were defending their patients and aid stations or hospitals.

However, by the time that interpretation came through, the time limit on nominations had passed.

During the next five years, Dr. West wrote letters to at least a dozen government agencies and branches of the armed services, urging them to reopen Capt. Salomon's case, to correct the error and award him the medal.

"For a long time I didn't think this was going to happen," Dr. West said. "There was a lot of watching and waiting. It was a long process, but the end result was worth it."

On May 1, Dr. West accepted Capt. Salomon's Medal of Honor and later presented the award to Maj. Gen. Patrick Sculley, Army dental chief. The medal will be displayed at the Army Medical Department Museum in San Antonio. A fax copy of the medal will be displayed at the University of Southern California School of Dentistry.

Dr. West said even though it was frustrating at times, it's good that the military looks into cases so meticulously. "Whether it took one year or five years, it was well worth the hard work and the wait in the end," he said.
     
Undergoing changes

Since its inception, the process by which the medal is awarded has undergone a number of changes because of misinterpretations or even mishandling of the Medal of Honor.

During the Civil War, President Lincoln, who was in need of troops, awarded the medal to the members of the 27th Maine Volunteer Infantry, to keep them on active duty. Because of a clerical error, the entire unit — 864 men — received the medal, even though only 311 men volunteered for extended duty.

Others had received the medal under questionable circumstances.

William F. "Buffalo Bill" Cody received the medal although he was a civilian serving with the military. Mary Edwards Walker, a contract surgeon, was reportedly given the medal during the Civil War to placate her after the Army terminated her contract. Dr. Walker is the only woman to have received the medal.

In 1916, a board was created to determine eligibility for the award and to review the cases of those who had already received the award. The board reviewed all 2,625 medals that were awarded up to that time, and the board canceled 911 of them, including most that were issued to the 27th Maine Volunteer Infantry. The medals given to Cody and Dr. Walker also were canceled.

Two years later, Congress decided to clear away any inconsistencies of the legislation regarding the Army Medal of Honor and wrote clear rules for its award.

Each of the armed services has set up regulations that allow no margin of doubt or error in judging whether a soldier is entitled to receive the medal.

A soldier's actions must be proved by at least two eyewitnesses. It must involve the risk of one's life and be the type of deed that, if he or she had not done it, would not subject him or her to any criticism.

There are also statutes of limitations. A recommendation for the Army or Air Force medal must be made within two years from the date the action occurred. The medal must be awarded within three years after the action took place. The recommendation for a Navy Medal of Honor must be made within three years and awarded within five.

The original request for military awards, including the Medal of Honor, is made by the military commander. In some cases, members of Congress ask the president to consider or reconsider a soldier or veteran for the medal.

Reasons why the medal wasn't initially awarded can be included in the application. Special legislation allows members of Congress then to ask the president to award the medal, according to documents made available by the Medal of Honor Society.

The military typically will not consider awarding the medal unless the soldier who was originally nominated for it did not receive it because of lost documentation or accusations of racism.

In these cases, the Board of Correction for Military Records of the appropriate military branch reviews the applications, and after its conclusions, submits it to appropriate authorities for further consideration. The Board of Correction for Military Records, however, is not involved in the process in cases where no original recommendation was made. Government officials say it is unlikely that the medal would be awarded if no original recommendation was made.

Defense Department officials agree reviews can take several years to obtain and verify evidence of actions deserving of an award. "Often cases are re-examined after previously unavailable evidence is discovered," a Pentagon official said. "This often leads to a perception that an award case took several decades to reach a final decision."
     
Racial disparity

Recently, there have been a number of specific instances in which the Medal of Honor was awarded or reinstated outside of statutory time limits after reviews of records.    

A 1996 study conducted by Shaw University in Raleigh, N.C., found there was a racial disparity in the way Medal of Honor recipients were selected, and that U.S. Army practices and the political climate during World War II guaranteed that no black soldier would receive the military's top award. The Army contracted the study in 1993.

After the study was completed, Congress passed a law that created a way around the 1952 statute of limitations that blocked new World War II medals. About the same time, Sen. Daniel K. Akaka, Hawaii Democrat, wrote a provision of the 1996 Defense Authorization Act mandating a review of the service records of Americans of Asian-Pacific descent who received the Distinguished Service Cross.     

As a result, President Clinton awarded the Medal of Honor to seven black veterans for their service during World War II. Three years later, Mr. Clinton awarded the Medal of Honor to 21 Americans of Asian descent, including Sen. Daniel K. Inouye, Hawaii Democrat, who, according to his Senate biography, "slogged through nearly three bloody months of the Rome-Arno campaign with the U.S. 5th Army and established himself as an outstanding patrol leader with the 'Go For Broke Regiment.'"

Other instances where the medal was awarded or reinstated:

• The family of the late Marine Col. Donald G. Cook received his Medal of Honor on May 16, 1980, for his service during captivity as a prisoner of war in North Vietnam from Dec. 31, 1964, through his death in captivity on Dec. 8, 1967. Information on his heroic deeds were only obtained after the repatriation of other POWs. Col. Cook's award was delayed in part because he had not been officially declared dead.

• The Army Board for Corrections of Military Records reinstated Dr. Walker's medal posthumously in 1977, citing her "distinguished gallantry, self-sacrifice, patriotism, dedication and unflinching loyalty to her country, despite the apparent discrimination because of her sex." Dr. Walker's family contacted members of Congress and President Carter for help on the matter. Mr. Carter, in turn, contacted the Defense Department to investigate.

• The Army Board reinstated Cody's medal posthumously in 1989, in part on the grounds in which Dr. Walker's award was reinstated, and that a precedent existed for awarding the medal to civilians who served with the military.

• The first President Bush in 1991 posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor to Army Cpl. Freddie Stowers, for his service in World War I. Although blacks had received the award for other conflicts before and since, Cpl. Stowers was, at the time, the only black to be awarded the Medal of Honor for service in either World War. Cpl. Stowers' case followed a review of the award by the Army to determine whether or not blacks were treated fairly.
     
Honoring Capt. Versace

It took the last 38 years for several former prisoners of war to press at least four administrations to get their fellow captive Army Capt. Rocky Versace a Medal of Honor, an award that many of his supporters argue he was denied in Vietnam.

Unlike the Air Force, the Navy or the Marines, the Army has never awarded the Medal of Honor to a POW from Vietnam for actions during captivity.

"The key point here is that it was Versace's actions and not just his status that earned him our nation's highest award for valor," the Defense Department official said. "Captain Versace's heroic actions and determination to resist capture reflected extraordinary valor amid grave personal sacrifice. In spite of every effort, Capt. Versace maintained his dignity, honor and faith in God and country."

An Alexandria native, Humbert Roque "Rocky" Versace, 25, was a few days away from joining the priesthood when he was captured by the Viet Cong in October 1963 as he accompanied an operation near U Minh Forest. The South Vietnamese company was overrun by a large enemy troop engagement, and Capt. Versace went down with three rounds in the leg. He, along with two others, were taken prisoner.

For years, they were incarcerated in bamboo cages, deprived of food. After trying to escape four times, Capt. Versace was shackled. He was kept flat on his back and often gagged in a tiny dark isolation cage. Their captors often paraded the prisoners around the villages, pulling them by a rope tied around their necks.

Capt. Versace remained defiant, never breaking during torture. According to past interviews with fellow prisoners, Capt. Versace always argued with his captors, rebutting their propaganda. "He told them to go to hell in Vietnamese, French and English," one fellow prisoner told a historian before his death in 1997. "He got a lot of pressure and torture, but he held his path. There was no other way."

In 1965, Capt. Versace was executed by his captors. His remains were never found, and his family was told little about his case.

Recommendations made to President Nixon by former POWs who escaped after Capt. Versace's death were turned down because of what some supporters say was the political climate of the time. He instead was awarded the Silver Star posthumously in 1969.

Nearly three decades later, a group of family friends and West Point classmates formed "The Friends of Rocky Versace" to lobby Congress to support a medal application for Capt. Versace.

"We crawled at a snail's pace to get through the red tape," said Duane Frederic, an Ohio resident who helped research Capt. Versace's records. "The process is a good one, but the problem is it takes too long and for good reason. No one would want the Medal of Honor to go to someone who didn't deserve it. To retain the integrity of the process, no one should be rushed."

Word came from the White House last year that Capt. Versace would be awarded the medal. Mr. Bush will award his family the Medal of Honor at a White House ceremony July 8.

"We never gave up, that's what it all comes down to," Mr. Frederic said. "Everybody understood that this man really deserves the Medal of Honor. And now we have closure, to know that Rocky did not necessarily suffer in vain. In the end, it's all about these soldiers who died with their boots on fighting for our freedom. We should never forget that."


Honoring the Defiant One

 

 

By Steve Vogel, May 27, 2001

 

His head was swollen, his hair completely white and his skin turned yellow from jaundice. He was rail thin, and he had no shoes, and his Viet Cong captors were yanking him around from village to village by the rope tied around his neck.

On patrol in late 1963 in the Mekong Delta, Army Capt. Jack Nicholson listened to villagers describe the scene they had witnessed. When they said the American prisoner had continually argued with his captors -- using Vietnamese and French to rebut their propaganda -- he knew they were talking about Rocky Versace.

"He had a funny expression about him, a smile, a flashing of teeth, that got their attention," said Nicholson, now a retired brigadier general living in Virginia. "And then when they heard him speak, they listened, because they couldn't help it."

Versace's defiance grew even as his condition worsened, infuriating his captors. In 1965, at age 27, Versace was executed. His remains have never been recovered. His family was told little. And in the eyes of many, Versace has never received the recognition he earned.

But after a long campaign by supporters, the former Alexandria resident is close to being posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor, an award he was denied 30 years ago. An Army recommendation to give the award was approved this year by Gen. Henry H. Shelton, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and forwarded to the secretary of defense's office.

Unlike the Air Force, Navy and Marines, the Army has never awarded the Medal of Honor to a POW from Vietnam for actions during captivity. Pentagon officials said they think it would be the first time in the modern era that the medal has gone to an Army POW for heroism during captivity.

"It's well known around here that the Army's very reluctant to give the award to a prisoner," said a Pentagon official, who ascribes the Army's attitude to a stigma associated with being captured.

Today, in conjunction with Memorial Day observances, a band of supporters will be near the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, raising money for a memorial in Alexandria to honor Versace. For those who know it, Versace's story has made an indelible impression.

"He told them to go to hell in Vietnamese, French and English," one of Versace's fellow captives, Dan Pitzer, who died in 1997, told a historian. "He got a lot of pressure and torture, but he held his path. As a West Point grad, it was duty, honor, country. There was no other way. He was brutally murdered because of it."

Another prisoner held with Versace, James "Nick" Rowe, escaped in 1968 after five years of captivity. Rowe made an impassioned plea to President Richard M. Nixon that Versace receive the Medal of Honor, describing how his resistance deflected punishment from other captives and stiffened their will to resist.

The Army downgraded the award to a Silver Star. Rowe, embittered, kept talking about Versace until the day he died, assassinated by communist rebels in 1989 while serving as a U.S. military adviser to the Philippine armed forces.

The pending honor will focus attention on a group of POWs who have received little recognition. While the ordeals suffered by downed aviators who were imprisoned in North Vietnam, such as Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), are well documented, less has been said about the more than 200 prisoners, mostly infantry soldiers, held in horrendous jungle camps in South Vietnam.

Versace is "a perfect symbol for a lot of the guys in the South who were overlooked," said Stuart Rochester, a Department of Defense historian and co-author of a history on Vietnam POWs. "The guys in the South really took tougher punishment than the guys in the North."

The medal will come too late for Versace's mother, who died in 1999, never fully accepting that her son was gone.

"My mother, she never gave up," said one of Rocky's brothers, Dick Versace, president of the National Basketball Association's Vancouver Grizzlies. "Until she died, she thought he'd come walking out of those jungles any day."

Humbert Roque "Rocky" Versace was just a few days short of joining a seminary to become a priest when he was captured.

His father, Humbert, was a West Point graduate and Army officer, his mother, Tere, an accomplished author who would write "The Fifteenth Pelican," a short story that became the basis for "The Flying Nun."

The oldest of five children in a close, strict Catholic household in Alexandria's Del Ray neighborhood, Rocky took on the role of father when Humbert Versace was away with the Army. He had a firm sense of duty and moral responsibility -- in addition to being infuriatingly opinionated and headstrong, his brothers said.

"If he thought he was right, he was a pain in the neck," said his brother Steve, a professor at the University of Maryland's University College. "If he knew he was right, he was absolutely atrocious."

Versace followed his father to West Point, graduating in 1959. Assigned to the "Old Guard" at Fort Myer, he chafed at the ceremonial duties and volunteered for a tour in Vietnam.

In 1962, Vietnam had barely registered on the American consciousness. There were no U.S. combat troops, only a few thousand military advisers sent to help the South Vietnamese government fight a communist insurgency.

Versace was assigned as an intelligence adviser for the South Vietnamese army in the Mekong Delta. Tall, dark-haired and handsome, Versace quickly made his mark. "If you were going to ask for a West Point cadet from central casting, he was it," said Don Price, a Marine officer who met him there.

Versace immersed himself in Vietnamese culture and the delta town of Camau. He created dispensaries, procured tin sheeting to replace thatch roofs and arranged for tons of bulgur wheat to feed family pigs, Price said. He wrote to schools in the United States and got soccer balls for village playgrounds.

When his one-year tour ended, Versace volunteered for a second stint and then planned to leave the Army. He had been accepted into the Maryknoll Order and wanted to work with children in Vietnam.

In October 1963, two weeks before his second tour was to end, Versace accompanied an operation near U Minh Forest, a Viet Cong stronghold. The South Vietnamese company was overrun by a large enemy force, and Versace went down with three rounds in the leg. He, Rowe and Pitzer were taken prisoner, stripped of their boots and led into the forest.

It was a dark maze of mangrove, canals and swamps. The prisoners were kept in bamboo cages, deprived of food and exposed to insects, heat and disease.

Versace's untreated leg became badly infected, but within three weeks he tried to escape, dragging himself on his hands and knees. Guards soon discovered him crawling in the swamp. Back in camp, they twisted his injured leg.

Versace was kept in irons, flat on his back and frequently gagged in a dark and hot bamboo isolation cage that was 6 feet long, 2 feet wide and 3 feet high.

The VC cadre set up indoctrination classes, but Versace attended only at the tip of a bayonet. Rowe and Pitzer "adopted a sit-and-listen attitude between bouts of body-wrenching dysentery, feeling the more we said, the worse off we'd be," Rowe later wrote. "Rocky, on the other hand, was engaging all comers." The instructor's voice would "climb an octave from its already high pitch" as Versace tripped him up with verbal gymnastics, Rowe said.

Increasingly, Versace was separated from the other prisoners.

Patrolling the delta, Nicholson kept hearing stories from admiring rice farmers about the resolute, white-haired POW whom the Viet Cong pulled around by a rope.

"Rocky Versace made an impression on these people, which heightened our eagerness to rescue him and caused us to immediately respond to any intelligence we could get," said Nicholson, who now works for a veterans organization in Alexandria.

Three times, after receiving tips about Versace's whereabouts, U.S. advisers launched helicopters to rescue him, and three times they came back empty-handed, taking heavy casualties on one occasion.

"It was very frustrating," Nicholson said. "Very frustrating and very sad."

When his tour ended in 1964, Nicholson went home and called Versace's father, who wept at the news of the attempted rescues. "You know, it's been almost a year since he was captured, and I haven't heard one word, not one word, from the government," Humbert Versace told him, Nicholson said.

Back in Vietnam, Versace tried three more times to escape, and his treatment worsened. The last the other prisoners heard from him, he was singing "God Bless America" at the top of his lungs from his isolation box.

On Sept. 29, 1965, Hanoi Radio announced that Versace had been executed in retaliation for the killing of suspected communist sympathizers by South Vietnam.

His family learned the news from television reports. "The thing that hit my dad hardest was when he heard Rocky had been executed on the 6 o'clock news," said Steve Versace. "I think he started dying then."

Tere Versace refused to believe it, pressing for more information and flying to Paris to try to meet with North Vietnamese diplomats.

But for most people, the story told by Rowe after he escaped ended any hope Versace might be alive. At a private meeting at the White House in 1969, Nixon was one of the first to hear it.

"The president wasn't prepared -- I don't think anyone was -- for what we were about to hear," said retired Col. Ray Nutter, an Army congressional liaison officer who accompanied Rowe to the meeting.

Rowe spoke for more than an hour, describing the prisoners' treatment and Versace's resistance. When it ended, Nixon, visibly moved, stood and hugged Rowe, Nutter said. Rowe told the president that Versace deserved the Medal of Honor. Nixon turned and told the liaison officers to "make damn sure" it happened, Nutter said.

The submission sat for two years before being turned down in 1971.

"The political climate of the time stopped that thing right in its tracks," Nutter said, noting that Rowe had publicly criticized antiwar senators.

Versace's case has been pushed in recent years by a hodgepodge group of soldiers and civilians who have heard his story: officers in the Army Special Forces command, West Point classmates and friends from Alexandria.

What they have in common is the haunting image of a man who, as Rowe wrote, did not break, or even bend. Said Nicholson, "It makes you think, 'Good Lord, could I be that strong?' "


 

Versace To Receive Medal of Honor

Jan 18, 2001

 

By Dave Eberhart, Stars and Stripes Veterans Affairs Editor

Thirty-eight years after his capture in a firefight in South Vietnam, Rocky Versace, inducted last year in the U.S. Army's Ranger Hall of Fame, is to be posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor.

"It's finally done!" Mike Faber, president of the Friends of Rocky Versace, exclaimed yesterday. He said final approval of the medal reached Army Secretary Louis Caldera's desk this week.

On Dec. 31, 1968, Maj. Nick Rowe miraculously escaped his Viet Cong captors in South Vietnam. Until his death in an ambush in the Philippines 20 years later, Rowe, the author of Five Years to Freedom, told anyone who would listen, including President Richard Nixon, of the incredible bravery of his fellow prisoner, Capt. Humbert "Rocky" Versace.

Silver Star in 1969

Rowe drafted the original Medal of Honor recommendation for Versace, which was downgraded to a Silver Star that was awarded posthumously in 1969.

The Medal of Honor now is before the Senate, marking the end of a decades-long crusade that had its latest resurgence two years ago when the Friends of Rocky Versace and members of the West Point Class of '59 began a concerted effort to have Versace's Silver Star elevated to the Medal of Honor.

His courage, his stubborn and even vehement rejection of the Viet Cong's indoctrination efforts and his insistence that fellow prisoners be treated in accordance with the Geneva Convention marked him as a soldier and leader of extraordinary heroism. The conditions of his captivity were brutal. Only a man of deeply-rooted character could have performed as he did.

"I was privileged to lead our nation's forces in South Vietnam from 1964 to 1968 as commander, Military Assistance Command Vietnam," said retired Gen. William C. Westmoreland. "In that capacity, I was frequently briefed on the circumstances of Capt. Versace's 23-month captivity. His courage, his stubborn and even vehement rejection of the Viet Cong's indoctrination efforts and his insistence that fellow prisoners be treated in accordance with the Geneva Convention marked him as a soldier and leader of extraordinary heroism. The conditions of his captivity were brutal. Only a man of deeply-rooted character could have performed as he did."

On Nov. 11 2000, the City of Alexandria, Va., unveiled a proposed memorial to Versace and 61 other Alexandria residents who died in the Vietnam War. The "Rocky Versace Plaza and Vietnam Veterans Memorial" will be built with funds donated by the public.

'He Would Never Give Up'

At the unveiling at the Mount Vernon Recreation Center in Alexandria, Pete Dawkins, a West Point classmate of Versace and a Heisman Trophy winner, told how Versace held the academy's intramural wrestling championship three years in a row: "He was not fast, he certainly was not skilled, but he would never give up."

The event included an unveiling by Heather French Henry, Miss America 2000, of a display case in the recreation center's foyer containing Versace's military decorations, his beret, the flag used at his interment at Arlington National Cemetery (his body has never been recovered), his POW Medal and various artifacts from his years at West Point.

Also included is a framed cover page from The Stars and Stripes featuring a smiling Versace and the news that Marine Corps Commandant Gen. James Jones had endorsed a posthumous Medal of Honor for Versace.

"Centered in the plaza will be the bronze figure of Rocky embraced by two children of Vietnam," said Maryland sculptor Antonio Tobias Mendez, winner of the Captain Rocky Versace Plaza and Vietnam Veterans Memorial design competition.

"The smiling figure is turning toward the children, who in kind return his joy. He is in military fatigues and is standing at peace without any weaponry. The sculpture stands as a symbolic reminder of what could have been and what could be. It is what all of Alexandria's Vietnam Veterans hoped for...peace."

An inscription hand-carved in marble will read: "Dedicated To Captain Humbert Roque 'Rocky' Versace, A Kid From The Neighborhood Who Had The Faith And Never Gave In." Once an altar boy at the nearby St. Rita Catholic Church, Versace lived on Forest Street in Alexandria just 500 yards from the recreation center.


 

 

 

Top Marine Endorses Medal of Honor for Army Hero

Jul 18, 2000

 

By David Eberhart, Stars and Stripes Veterans Affairs Editor

 

The last thing fellow prisoners heard from "Rocky" Versace was the battered Army captain defiantly singing "God Bless America" in his cell the night before his execution.

The communist Viet Cong executed Capt. Humbert Roque "Rocky" Versace in September 1965 following two years of captivity marked by a stubborn refusal to compromise the U.S. military Code of Conduct for prisoners of war and repeated attempts to escape his captors.

Thirty-five years later, in an unprecedented development, the commandant of the U.S. Marine Corps, Gen. James L. Jones, is adding the prestige of his office to an effort to bestow the Medal of Honor on the deceased hero. Colleagues nominated him for the Medal of Honor in late 1969, but the Army downgraded it to a posthumous Silver Star.

The Friends of Rocky Versace, an informal group that has lobbied in support of the medal application, has provided The Stars and Stripes a letter dated April 28 and addressed to Army Chief of Staff Gen. Eric K. Shinseki that came to their attention only two weeks ago. The letter says, in part:

"[Capt. Versace] was captured by the Viet Cong and held as a prisoner for nearly two years. Throughout his captivity he vehemently rejected his captors' indoctrination efforts and attempted to escape four times. Despite the brutal physical and mental abuse to which he was subjected, he never lost his will to resist. His focused determination so confounded his captors that they executed him in September 1965.

"His absolute adherence to the West Point Creed of 'Duty, Honor, Country' provided an inspirational example to his fellow prisoners. Furthermore his heroic determination to resist reflected an extraordinary amount of valor and conspicuous personal sacrifice. It would be fitting for our nation to recognize this by awarding Captain Humbert Versace the Medal of Honor," Jones wrote.

Word of Versace's heroism first emerged from the jungle when a fellow prisoner, Army Col. Nick Rowe, escaped on Dec. 31, 1968, and began telling the world about him.

"They couldn't break him, they couldn't even bend him," said Rowe, who went on to write a memoir on his captivity, "Five Years to Freedom," and to lobby to have his friend awarded the nation's highest decoration for valor.

"He set an example for me in particular and the other POWs in the camp," Rowe said in a 1969 speech at West Point. "He died for what he believed in. He died for his actions, but he is a man who I believe will be remembered, and I am going to see that he is remembered." Rowe was killed by communist rebels in the Philippines in 1988.

The quest for a Medal of Honor for Versace languished until the Friends of Rocky Versace re-ignited the crusade in early 1999. The medal application so far has been screened by the Awards Branch of the Army's Personnel Command and evaluated by the standing committee of four Army lieutenant generals.

The arduous process also involves scrutiny by the Army Chief of Staff, the Secretary of the Army, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the Secretary of Defense, the Senate Armed Services Committee and, finally, the president.

 


 

U.S. Army Ranger Hall of Fame Nomination: Captain Humbert R. Versace

Sep 12, 2000

 

U.S. Army Ranger Hall of Fame

Nomination Letter

 

INTRODUCTION

A. Purpose of Letter

Captain Humbert R. Versace, Armor, is hereby nominated for induction into the US Army Ranger Hall of Fame. Captain Versace distinguished himself by conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty while a prisoner of war. Captain Versace's rigid adherence to the Ranger Creed and the Code of Conduct, and his total refusal to acquiesce to his captors demands, resulted in him being summarily executed by his Viet Cong captors on or about 26 September 1965.

B. Career Summary

CPT Versace graduated from the U.S. Military Academy in 1959 and was commissioned in the Armor. He was a member of Ranger Class 60-4 and was awarded the Ranger Tab. Prior to his 1962 assignment to Military Assistance Advisory Group, Vietnam, he served with 3/40 Armor and the 3d Infantry (Old Guard)

BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF CAPTURE

Circumstances

In October, 1963, CPT Humbert Rocque (Rocky) Versace was a U.S. Army MAAG intelligence advisor assigned to support Province forces (Civil Guard and Self Defense Forces) operating in An Xuyen Province (IV Corps Tactical Zone) in the Mekong Delta Region of South Vietnam. On 29 October, CPT Versace made a liaison visit to the Special Forces Team A-23 camp at Tan Phu to exchange intelligence reports on enemy activities in the area. A determination was made to launch an attack against VC forces in the area. CPT Versace accompanied the attacking CIDG force with Special Forces Team members 1st Lt. Nick Rowe and SFC. Dan Pitzer. CPT Versace was seriously wounded by three BAR rounds to his leg while helping to cover the withdrawal of CIDG forces in the face of a determined and very heavy Viet Cong Main Force attack. At that point CPT Versace, 1st Lt. Nick Rowe and SFC Pitzer as well as the CIDG forces were almost out of ammunition. CPT Versace had 7 rounds left in his carbine and was about to charge the Viet Cong in one last valiant effort to stop their pursuit when he was wounded. Rowe and Pitzer were also wounded and all three captured by the Viet Cong.

After being stripped of their boots, weapons, and personal possessions, CPT Versace, 1LT Rowe, and SFC Pitzer were bound and led barefoot into jungle captivity by their Viet Cong captors, somewhere in the vast darkness of the U Minh Forest. CPT Versace had his eyeglasses removed, leaving him virtually blind since his vision was very poor without them

SUMMARY OF ACTIONS IN POW CAMPS

Upon arrival on the VC jungle prison camp, CPT Versace assumed command as senior prisoner to represent his fellow Americans, and immediately was labeled as a trouble maker by his captors for insisting that the VC honor the Geneva Convention's protections for captured POWs. The Viet Cong didn't acknowledge any protections guaranteed to POWs as required by the Geneva Convention, and considered the three Americans to be "war criminals." Soon CPT Versace was separated from Rowe and Pitzer and put in a bamboo isolation cage six feet long, two feet wide, and three feet high. According to Rowe and Pitzer "He was kept in irons, flat on his back, it was dark and hot [from thatch on the roof and outside bamboo walls], and they only let him out to use that latrine and to eat. What they were trying to do was to break him. They even offered better food and they would let him out if he would cooperate, but he would not. They wanted to get him to (1) quit arguing with them (2) and accept their propaganda. The Vietnamese gave him the word that they knew he was an S-2 Advisor."

SPECIFIC ACTIONS

A. Organizing/Encouraging other POWs

Though suffering from a badly wounded and infected leg, CPT Versace assumed the position of Senior American Prisoner and demanded that the Viet Cong treat the American prisoners according to the protections of the Geneva Convention. He protested vehemently when the VC cadre refused to recognize them as "prisoners of war," but treated them instead as "war criminals," subject to the whims of individual cadre to decide matters of life or death. For his vociferous protestations against starvation rations, lack of adequate medical treatment for their wounds suffered when captured, deliberate withholding of medicines to treat life threatening diseases, and the overall sub-human living conditions in a brutal jungle environment, CPT Versace was soon ordered to be kept in an isolation hut with thatch on the roof and sides, which made mid-day temperatures inside as hot as an oven. The DOD Prisoner and Missing Personnel Office (DPMO) states that: "...CPT Versace demonstrated exceptional leadership by communicating positively to his fellow prisoners. He lifted morale when he passed messages by singing them into the popular songs of the day. When he used his Vietnamese language skills to protest improper treatment to the guards, CPT Versace was again put into leg irons and gagged. Unyielding, he steadfastly continued to berate the guards for their inhuman treatment. The communist guards simply elected harsher treatment by placing him in an isolation box, to put him out of earshot and to keep him away from the other US POWs for the remainder of his stay in camp. However, CPT Versace continued to leave notes in the latrine for his fellow inmates, and continued to sing even louder." CPT Versace wouldn't give his captors any information other than the big four of name, rank, service number, and date of birth, as required by the Geneva Convention and the U.S. Code of Conduct.

B. Active Resistance

According to SFC Pitzer "Rocky walked his own path. All of us did but for that guy, duty, honor, country was a way of life. He was the finest example of an officer I have known. To him it was a matter of liberty or death, the big four and nothing more. There was no other way for him. Once, Rocky told our captors that as long as he was true to God and true to himself, what was waiting for him after this life was far better than anything that could happen now. So he told them that they might as well kill him then and there if the price of his life was getting more from him than name, rank, and serial number" SFC Pitzer also noted that "The VC realized Rocky was a captain, Nick [Rowe] a lieutenant, and I a sergeant, so they singled him out as ranking man. Rocky stood toe to toe with them. He told them to go to hell in Vietnamese, French, and English. He got a lot of pressure and torture, but he held his path. As a West Point grad, it was Duty, Honor, Country. There was no other way. He was brutally murdered because of it...I'm satisfied that he would have it no other way. I know that he valued that one moment of honor more than he would have a lifetime of compromises."

C. Escape Attempts

DPMO records reveal that: "Still suffering from debilitating injuries in the prison camp dispensary three weeks later, CPT Versace took advantage of the first opportunity to escape when he attempted to drag himself on his hands and knees out of the camp through dense swamp and forbidding vegetation to freedom. Crawling at a very slow pace, the guards quickly discovered him outside the camp and recaptured him. After recapture CPT Versace was returned to leg irons and his wounds were left untreated. He was placed on a starvation diet of rice and salt. During this time period Viet Cong guards told other US POWs in the camp that despite beatings, CPT Versace refused to give in. On one occasion, a guard attempted to coerce him to cooperate by twisting the wounded and infected leg, to no avail. They described Versace as an 'uncooperative' prisoner."

D. Rejection of Brain Washing

In February, 1964 the VC cadre forced the American prisoners to attend a political school, which was a combination of 2,000 years of Vietnamese history of repelling foreign invaders from the Chinese all the way to the Americans and their Saigon "puppet" government, and intense political indoctrination from the VC perspective. The VC concept was to repeat the same themes over and over, so that after months of hearing the same lessons, prisoners would become "re-educated" to accept the communist view of their inevitable victory over the Americans and the Saigon government, no matter how long it took to achieve, or the cost in VC and NVA casualties. Rowe recalled that it took two guards to force CPT Versace to attend, since he would not go on his own. ". . . I remember Rocky saying "you can make me come to this class, but I am an officer in the United States Army. You can make me listen, you can force me to sit here, but I don't believe a word of what you are saying."

E. Focusing VC wrath on himself rather than Rowe and Pitzer

CPT Versace willingly sacrificed his life by focusing all of the anger of the VC cadre on him, instead of 1LT Rowe and SFC Pitzer, so that they might have a better chance to survive. By constantly arguing loudly with his communist cadre in English, Vietnamese, and French, he caused them considerable consternation during a "political school" that was supposed to get the Americans to write statements disloyal to the US government and their South Vietnamese allies. Instead, they got nothing but very loud arguments as CPT Versace was able to take on three indoctrinators easily in three languages.

F. Inspiring local villagers

CPT Versace and the other US Army prisoners were frequently moved from one POW camp to another. In the case of Versace he was often moved individually without benefit of being near his fellow prisoners. BG John Nicholson participated in the numerous operations launched to free CPT Versace and his fellow prisoners. According to BG Nicholson and others, villagers reported that CPT Versace was paraded through the hamlets with a rope around his neck, hands tied, bare-footed, head swollen and yellow in color, with hair turned white. The villagers stated that CPT Versace not only resisted the Viet Cong attempts to get him to admit war crimes and aggression, but would verbally and convincingly counter the VC assertions in a loud voice so that the villagers could hear. The local rice farmers were surprised at CPT Versace's strength of character and his unwavering commitment to his God and the United States.

ADHERENCE TO HIGHEST STANDARDS

A. Code of Conduct

CPT Versace's tenacious and heroic adherence to the Code of Conduct was in keeping with the absolutely highest standards of the United States Army and centuries of Ranger tradition. At no point from capture to execution, despite torture and isolation, did CPT Versace provide his captors with any information other than name, rank. Serial number and date of birth.

B. Ranger Creed

Although the Ranger Creed was not a formalized document when CPT Versace was captured, he lived, and died, by its tenets:

1. Never Shall I Fail My Comrades

CPT Versace fought to protect his comrades until seriously wounded by BAR fire. He was about to literally sacrifice himself by attacking the Viet Cong with his remaining seven carbine rounds when wounded. In captivity he was willing to accept death rather than compromise the Ranger Creed, Code of Conduct, and the ideals of Duty, Honor, and Country. As senior American POW, CPT Versace deliberately forced his captors to focus their harsh treatment on him rather that the other American prisoners. His Ranger training, his unshakable belief in God and Country sustained him throughout his captivity until his death.

2. Under No Circumstances Will I Embarrass My Country

CPT Versace resisted all attempts by his captors to force him to embarrass his country, despite torture, deprivation of medical treatment and food and isolation. CPT Versace's active and visible resistance to his captors as he was paraded through the hamlets, impressed the villagers rather than proving the VC point that Americans were not invincible. Villagers added that the worse he appeared physically, the more he smiled and talked about God and America. The last time that any of his fellow prisoners heard from him, CPT Versace was singing "God Bless America" at the top of his voice from his isolation box. On 29 September 1965 the National Liberation Front announced that they had executed CPT Versace, reportedly in reprisal for actions of the South Vietnamese Government

3. Surrender is not a Ranger Word

According to a Viet Cong cadre in the POW camp, CPT Versace tried to escape four times. The first attempt took place when he was still in the camp dispensary recovering from his three leg wounds. He was barefoot. CPT Versace was also virtually blind when he made these attempts. After each attempt, CPT Versace was beaten and had his feet manacled. His rice ration was also cut. As then MAJ Nick Rowe said later about CPT Versace, "He could have bent, he could have broken, he could have lived. But he chose not to." Instead CPT Versace lived and died by the Ranger Creed.

C. Medal of Honor Nomination

President Nixon verbally directed then Major Nick Rowe to submit the necessary documents to support award of the Medal of Honor to Captain Versace for his heroism before and during captivity. On 17 November 1969 (then) MAJ Rowe submitted a recommendation for posthumous award of the Medal of Honor to CPT Versace. For a number of unexplained reasons related to bureaucratic concerns rather than the nature of Captain Versace's heroism, Department of the Army on 19 May 1971, downgraded the award to the a posthumous Silver Star. US Army Special Forces Command is currently preparing and resubmitting the nomination for the Medal of Honor.

SUMMARY

Captain Versace's induction into the US Army Ranger Hall of Fame is certainly warranted by his heroism and total commitment to the bed rock values which Rangers hold dear even at the cost of his life.

Ranger Career Summary

Captain Humbert Rocque Versace graduated from the US Military Academy in 1959 and was commissioned in the Armor. He was a member of Ranger Class 4-60 and was awarded the Ranger Tab on 18 December 1959 (Special Orders #268, USAIC, 18 Dec 59). Upon graduation from Ranger School, CPT Versace attended Airborne School and was awarded the parachutist badge (US Army Infantry Center Special Orders #27 'Parachutist Badge' 5 FEB 60). He then served with 3/40 Armor, 1st Cavalry Division, Korea, as a medium tank platoon leader from March 1960 to April 1961. CPT Versace was then assigned to the 3d Infantry (Old Guard), where he served as a tank platoon leader in Headquarters and Headquarters Company. After volunteering for duty in RVN, he attended (January through April 1962) the Military Assistance Institute, the Intelligence course at Ft. Holabird and the USACS Vietnamese language Course. On 12 May 62 Versace was Assigned as Intelligence Advisor, Long Kanh, Province, III Corps ( Xuan Loc). On 4 November 62, Versace was reassigned as Assistant G2 Advisor, Staff Advisory Branch, 5th IN Division, III Corps (Location Bien Hoa). Following the completion of his initial 12 month tour, CPT Versace extended his tour for an additional six months, and was assigned to Advisory Team 70, as Intelligence Advisor to Civil Defense and Self Defense Forces operating in An Xuyen Province (IV Corps Tactical Zone) in the Mekong Delta Region of South Vietnam. It was while in this assignment that CPT Versace was wounded and captured on 29 October, 1962 while on an operation with Special Forces Team A-23, at Tan Phu, on the edge of the U Minh Forest. CPT Versace was a prisoner of the Viet Cong until 26 September 1965, when he was executed by his captors because of his tenacious resistance and rigid adherence to the Code of Conduct and the Ranger Creed. CPT Versace was awarded a posthumous Purple Heart on 2 July 1966 and a posthumous Silver Star on 19 May 1971. His nomination for the Congressional Medal of Honor was lost or misfiled. US Army Special Operations Command is resubmitting the Medal of Honor nomination. CPT Versace was awarded the Combat Infantry Badge during his first tour as an Advisor in Vietnam. He was awarded the Expert Infantryman's Badge while assigned to The Old Guard (Special Orders #131, Hq 3rd Inf, 5 July 61). CPT Versace was also posthumously awarded the POW medal on 10 November 1999 and the Special Forces Tab on 12 July 1999.

Biography

Humbert Rocque Versace, was born at Schofield Barracks, Hawaii, on 3 July 1937, the son of then Captain Humbert J. Versace, a Field Artillery officer. Humbert R. Versace was nominated for appointment to the US Military Academy at West Point, entering in July 1955. He graduated in June 1959 and was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant of Armor.

Following Armor Officer Basic Course, Ft. Knox, Versace attended Ranger Course 4-60, graduating on 18 December of 1959 (Awarded Ranger Tab Special Orders #268, USAIC, 18 DEC 59). In January 60, Versace attended and graduated from Airborne School and was awarded the Parachutist Badge (US Army Infantry Center Special Orders #27 'Parachutist Badge' 5 FEB 60).

Then 2nd LT Versace was assigned to 3/40 Armor, 1st Cavalry Division, Korea, where he served as a medium tank platoon leader from March 1960 to April 1961. 1st LT Versace was then assigned to the 1st Battle Group, 3d Infantry, the Old Guard, as Tank Platoon Leader in Headquarters Company. After volunteering for duty in RVN, he attended (January through April 1962) the Military Assistance Institute, the Intelligence Course at Ft. Holabird and the USACS Vietnamese Language Course.

On 12 May 62 Versace was Assigned as Intelligence Advisor, Long Kanh, Province, III Corps ( Xuan Loc). On 4 November 62, Versace was reassigned as Assistant G2 Advisor, Staff Advisory Branch, 5th IN Division, III Corps (Location Bien Hoa). Following the completion of his initial 12 month tour, CPT Versace extended his tour for an additional six months, and was assigned to Advisory Team 70, as Intelligence Advisor to Civil Defense and Self Defense Forces operating in An Xuyen Province (IV Corps Tactical Zone) in the Mekong Delta Region of South Vietnam. It was while in this assignment that CPT Versace was wounded and captured on 29 October, 1962 while on an operation with Special Forces Team A-23, at Tan Phu, on the edge of the U Minh Forest.

CPT Versace was a prisoner of the Viet Cong until 26 September 1965, when he was executed by his captors because of his tenacious resistance and rigid adherence to the Code of Conduct and the Ranger Creed.

CPT Versace was awarded a posthumous Purple Heart on 2 July 1966 and a posthumous Silver Star on 19 May 1971. His nomination for the Congressional Medal of Honor was lost or misfiled. US Army Special Operations Command is resubmitting the Medal of Honor nomination. CPT Versace was awarded the Combat Infantry Badge during his first tour as an Advisor in Vietnam. He was awarded the Expert Infantryman's Badge while assigned to The Old Guard (Special Orders #131, HQ 3rd Inf, 5 July 61). CPT Versace was also posthumously awarded the POW medal on 10 November 1999 and the Special Forces Tab on 12 July 1999.

Proposed Citation

CPT Versace distinguished himself by conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty while a prisoner of war as follows:

Though suffering from badly infected leg wounds received as Captain Versace heroically covered the withdrawal of CIDG troops, and barely able to see, CPT Versace assumed the position of Senior American Prisoner and demanded that the Viet Cong treat the American prisoners according to the protections of the Geneva Convention. For his vociferous protestations against their barbarous and sub-human treatment, CPT Versace was placed in a locked isolation box and brutally treated and tortured. CPT Versace's exceptional faith in God, Country, and his fellow prisoners, and his resolve to uphold every tenet of the Ranger Creed and Code of Conduct despite the temptations from his captors offering more food, better treatment and early release if only he would co-operate by making disloyal statements, distinguish him as the toughest hard-line resister among all of the Army jungle captives who did not return at Operation Homecoming.

CPT Versace willingly sacrificed his life by focusing all of the anger of the VC cadre on him, instead of 1LT Rowe and SFC Pitzer, so that they might have a better chance to survive. CPT Versace resolutely refused to violate the Code of Conduct and lived the tenets of the Ranger Creed. He inspired local villagers with his determined resistance. CPT Versace told his captors that he was willing to accept death rather than compromise the Code of Conduct and the ideals of Duty, Honor, and Country. His unshakable belief in God sustained him throughout his two-year captivity until his death. CPT Versace's outstanding leadership inspired 1LT Rowe and SFC Pitzer to endure torture and the brutal hardships of jungle captivity rather than compromise the Code of Conduct.

Assignments, Awards and Decorations

Assignments

 

* 1 July 1955-3 June 1959 Cadet, USCC, US Military Academy

* 3 June 1959 Commissioned 2nd LT, Armor

* 11 August - 21 October 1959 Armor Officer Basic Course 2B

* 23 October - 18 December 1959 US Army Ranger School, Class 4-60

* 22 March 1960 - 11 April 1961 3rd Battalion, 40th Armor, Medium Tank Platoon Leader, Korea

* 16 May 1961 - 31 December 1962 HQ 3rd Infantry, Tank Platoon Leader, Ft. Myer, VA, 1st LT

* 2 January - 26 January 1962 Military Assistance Institute, Arlington, VA

* 4 February - 5 March 1962 Intelligence Course, US Army Intelligence Center, Ft. Holabird, MD

* 30 March - 1 May 1962 USACS Presidio Language School, Monterey, CA

* 12 May - 3 November 1962 Intelligence Advisor, Long Khanh Province, III Corps, Xuan Loc, RVN

* 4 November 1962 - May 1963 Assistant G-2 Advisor, Staff Advisory Branch, 5th Infantry Division, III Corps, Bien Boa

* June 62 - October 1963 Advisory Team 70, Intelligence Advisor, An Xuyen, IV Corps Tactical Zone, CPT

* 29 October 1963 - 26 September 1965 Prisoner of War

Awards and Decorations

 

* Ranger Tab, Special Orders # 268, HQ US Army Infantry Center, 18 December 1959

* Parachutist Badge, Special Orders # 27, HQ US Army Infantry Center, 5 February 1960

* Expert Infantry Badge, Special Orders # 131, HQ 3rd Infantry, 5 July 1961

* Combat Infantry Badge, October 1962 (exact date, orders number UNK)

* Special Forces Tab (Posthumous), 12 July 1999

* Silver Star (Posthumous), 19 May 1971

* Purple Heart (Posthumous), 2 July 1966

* POW Medal (Posthumous), 10 November 1999

* Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal

* National Defense Service Medal

 


 

Fort Benning Honors for Rocky Versace

Oct 7, 2000

 

By Mike Faber, Stars and Stripes Contributing Writer

 

"Rocky set an example. He died for what he believed in. He died for his actions. But he is a man who I believe will be remembered, and I'm going to see that he is remembered," Maj. Nick Rowe told the Corps of Cadets at the U.S. Military Academy (USMA) in the spring of 1969.

Rowe, the author of "Five Years to Freedom," was imprisoned with Capt. Humbert Roque "Rocky" Versace in Vietnam. The Viet Cong executed Versace in September 1965 after two years of resolute adherence by the Army Ranger to the military Code of Conduct.

On Oct. 4, Versace was remembered in a solemn mid-morning ceremony at Fort Benning, Ga., during which his 1959 West Point classmates honored Versace and seven other Rangers at Benning's Ranger Memorial.

New Ceremony

In a precedent-setting ceremony, USMA Class of '59 Rangers who were killed in action and one who died in the rugged Ranger training were honored with engraved stones in the memorial's walkway.

Gen. Fred Franks delivered an emotional eulogy before about 250 family members, classmates and friends of the fallen heroes. In addition to Versace, those honored were Clayton A. Fannin, Francis G. Gercz Jr., Richard K. Jordan, Roger A. Quinn, Lawrence H. Shuck Jr., William F. Train III and Walter B. Tully.

Franks, famous in military circles for his "left hook" attack during the 1991 Gulf War, ended his tribute with a quote from the West Point Alma Mater: "And when our course on Earth is run, let it be said, Well done, be thou at peace."

In the afternoon, Versace and others including former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Colin Powell (USA-ret.) and Col. Walter J. Marm, Jr., a Vietnam Medal of Honor recipient, were inducted into the Ranger Hall of Fame.

Dr. Steve Versace, Rocky's brother, represented the Versace family.

Editor's Note: Mike Faber is a founding member of "The Friends of Rocky Versace," an organization advocating the Medal of Honor for Versace. At 2:30 p.m. on Veterans Day, Nov. 11, the Rocky Versace Plaza and Vietnam Memorial will be dedicated in Alexandria, Va., and a model of a Versace statue and a display case of his memorabilia unveiled. The Vietnam Memorial honors the 62 Alexandria residents who lost their lives in Vietnam.

Heather French, Miss America 2000, will be a special guest and an honor guard from The Old Guard at Fort Myer, Va., will appear. The site is next to the Mt. Vernon Recreation Center at the corner of Mt. Vernon and Commonwealth avenues. The event is open to the public.

 


Friends Optimistic About Medal of Honor for Versace

Aug 9, 2000

 

By David Eberhart, Stars and Stripes Veterans Affairs Editor

 

As the 35th anniversary of his death approaches, the Friends of Rocky Versace are hopeful that a posthumous Medal of Honor will be approved for the Army Ranger who was executed by the Viet Cong in September 1965.

The "Rock," as his 1959 West Point classmates call him, never broke in two years of torture. They and others around the globe who feel his heroism merits the country's highest combat award say there's an encouraging buzz in the air--even on the floor of the Republican National Convention in Philadelphia the last week of July.

Mike Faber of the Friends told The Stars and Stripes:

"A friend of mine got me the credentials to go to the Republican National Convention, so I went up to Philadelphia for the day. I got a chance to meet Sen. Bob Smith [R-N.H.] and thanked him for co-sponsoring the Medal of Honor package for Rocky. He immediately knew whom I was talking about and was very enthusiastic. I mentioned the letter of support [for the medal] from Marine Corps commandant Gen. Jones and he was already aware of it. Very encouraging.

"Returning to my home in Virginia, my train was delayed by almost two hours, and I got into a conversation with a gentleman who was waiting for the same train. Turns out he was a four-term congressman and two-term senator from Pennsylvania, Richard Schweiker, who was President Ronald Reagan's vice-presidential selection in 1976. He also served on the Senate Armed Forces Committee with Sen. John Warner and was very familiar with the Medal of Honor process. I had one of the 100-page Rocky booklets with me, and Sen. Schweiker spent every minute until the train arrived looking through each page of it and asking questions.

"He seems to think that with Gen. Jones's endorsement, the Medal of Honor should be approved. He said that he might even be able to assist in some way. He wants to be kept informed.... We all do."

Those who knew him say there was something unique about the smiling young Versace that remains imprinted on their memories. According to his classmates, he was not the best student and often struggled against authority. But there was never any doubt that of the fervent Catholic's faith. His goal was to leave the military, become a Maryknoll missionary and return to Vietnam to work with children there.

In a 1962 Christmas letter to his family, Versace wrote from Vietnam:

"I am convinced that your taxpayers' money is being put to a very worthy cause-that of freeing the Vietnamese people from an organized Communist threat aimed at the same nasty things all Communists want-at denying this country and its wonderful people a chance to better themselves.... Many among the poor and remote people are responding to a government that can and does help them and protect them. I have found villagers and ordinary soldiers and farmers to be wonderful people."

 


--- General / Personal ---

 

Last name: VERSACE

First name: HUMBERT ROQUE

Home of Record (official): NORFOLK

State (official): VA

Date of Birth: Friday, July 2, 1937

Sex: Male

Race: Caucasian

Marital Status: Single

 

--- Military ---

 

Branch: Army

Rank: CPT

Serial Number: O87417

Component: Regular

Pay grade: O3

MOS (Military Occupational Specialty code): 9301

 

 

--- Action ---

 

Start of Tour: Tuesday, October 29, 1963

Date of Casualty: Friday, July 1, 1966

Age at time of loss: 28

Casualty type: (A4) Hostile, died while captured

Reason: Gun, small arms fire (Ground casualty)

Country: South VietNam

Province: Unknown/Not Reported

The Wall: Panel 01E - Row 033

 

 

VERSACE, HUMBERTO ROQUE

 

Subject: Versace Medal of Honor

Date: Wed, 17 Jan 2001 14:26:09 -0500

 

The Secretary of the Army has informed the Congress that he has made a positive recommendation [approval] to the Secretary of Defense that Captain Rocky Versace should be awarded the Medal of Honor.

 

Name: Humberto Roque "Rocky" Versace

Rank/Branch: O3/US Army Special Forces

Unit: Detachment A-23, 5th Special Forces Group

(Intelligence Advisor, MAAG at Camau)

Date of Birth: 02 July 1937 (Honolulu HI)

Home City of Record: Norfolk VA

Loss Date: 29 October 1963

Country of Loss: South Vietnam

Loss Coordinates: 092626N 1050917E (WR170435)

Status (in 1973): Killed In Captivity

Category: 1

Acft/Vehicle/Ground: Ground

 

Other Personnel in Incident: James N. Rowe (escaped 1968); Daniel L. Pitzer (released 1967); At Hiep Hoa: Claude D. McClure; George E. Smith (released 1965); Issac Camacho (escaped 1965); Kenneth M. Roraback (missing).

 

Source: Compiled by HOMECOMING II from one or more of the following: raw data from U.S. Government agency sources, correspondence with POW/MIA families, published sources, interviews. Updated by the P.O.W. NETWORK May 1997

 

REMARKS: POSS EXECUTED 650926 - PRG DIC LIST

 

SYNOPSIS: The U.S. Army Special Forces, Vietnam (Provisional) was formed at Saigon in 1962 to advise and assist the South Vietnamese government in the organization, training, equipping and employment of the Civilian Irregular Defense Group (CIDG) forces. Total personnel strength in 1963 was 674, all but 98 of whom were TDY from 1st Special Forces Group on Okinawa and 5th and 7th Special Forces Groups at Ft. Bragg. USSF Provisonal was given complete charge of the CIDG program, formerly handled by the CIA, on July 1, 1963.

The USSF Provisional/CIDG network consisted of fortified, strategically located camps, each one with an airstrip. The area development programs soon evolved into combat operations, and by the end of October 1963, the network also had responsibility for border surveillance. Two of the Provisional/CIDG camps were at Hiep Hoa (Detachment A-21) and Tan Phu (Detachment A-23), Republic of Vietnam. Their isolated locations, in the midst of known heavy enemy presence, made the camps vulnerable to attack.

 

On October 29, 1963, Capt. "Rocky" Versace, 1Lt. "Nick" Rowe, and Sgt. Daniel Pitzer were accompanying a CIDG company on an operation along a canal. The team left the camp at Tan Phu for the village of Le Coeur to roust a small enemy unit that was establishing a command post there. When they reached the village, they found the enemy gone, and pursued them, falling into an ambush at about 1000 hours. The fighting continued until 1800 hours, when reinforcements were sent in to relieve the company. During the fight, Versace, Pitzer and Rowe were all captured. The three captives were photographed together in a staged setting in the U Minh forest in their early days of captivity.

 

The camp at Hiep Hoa was located in the Plain of Reeds between Saigon and the Cambodian border. In late October 1963, several Viet Cong surrendered at the camp, claiming they wished to defect. Nearly a month later, on November 24, Hiep Hoa was overrun by an estimated 400-500 Viet Cong just after midnight. Viet Cong sympathizers in the camp had killed the guards and manned a machine gun position at the beginning of the attack. The Viet Cong climbed the camp walls and shouted in Vietnamese, "Don't shoot! All we want is the Americans and the weapons!" Lt. John Colbe, the executive officer, evaded capture. Capt. Doug Horne, the Detachment commander, had left earlier with a 36 man Special Forces/CIDG force. The Viet Cong captured four of the Americans there. It was the first Special Forces camp to be overrun in the Vietnam War.

 

Those captured at Hiep Hoa were SFC Issac "Ike" Camacho, SFC Kenneth M. Roraback (the radio operator), Sgt. George E. "Smitty" Smith and SP5 Claude D. McClure. Their early days of captivity were spent in the Plain of Reeds, southwest of Hiep Hoa, and they were later held in the U Minh forest.

 

 "Ike" Camacho continually looked for a way to escape. In July 1965, he was successful. His and Smith's chains had been removed for use on two new American prisoners, and in the cover of a violent night storm, Camacho escaped and made his way to the village of Minh Thanh. He was the first American serviceman to escape from the Viet Cong in the Second Indochina War. McClure and Smith were released from Cambodia in November 1965.

 

Rocky Versace had been torn between the Army and the priesthood. When he won an appointment to West Point, he decided God wanted him to be a soldier. He was to enter Maryknoll (an order of Missionaries), as a candidate for the priesthood, when he left Vietnam. It was evident from the beginning that Versace, who spoke fluent French and Vietnamese, was going to be a problem for the Viet Cong. Although Versace was known to love the Vietnamese people, he could not accept the Viet Cong philosophy of revolution, and spent long hours assailing their viewpoints. His captors eventually isolated him to attempt to break him.

 

Rowe and Pitzer saw Rocky at interludes during their first months of captivity, and saw that he had not broken. Indeed, although he became very thin, he still attempted to escape. By January 1965, Versace's steel-grey hair had turned completely white. He was an inspiration to them both. Rowe wrote:

 

..The Alien force, applied with hate, could not break him, failed to bend him; Though solitary imprisonment gave him no friends, he drew upon his inner self to create a force so strong that those who sought to destroy his will, met an army his to command..

 

On Sunday, September 26, 1965, "Liberation Radio" announced the execution of Rocky Versace and Kenneth Roraback in retaliation for the deaths of 3 terrorists in Da Nang. A later news article stated that the executions were faked, but the Army did not reopen an investigaton. In the late 1970's information regarding this "execution" became classified, and is no longer part of public record.

 

Sgt. Pitzer was released from Cambodia November 11, 1967.

 

1Lt. Nick Rowe was scheduled to be executed in late December 1968. His captors had had enough of him - his refusal to accept the communist ideology and his continued escape attempts. While away from the camp in the U Minh forest, Rowe took advantage of a sudden flight of American helicopters, struck down his guards, and ran into a clearing where the helicopters noticed him and rescued him, still clad in black prisoner pajamas. He had been promoted to Major during his five years of captivity.

 

Rowe remained in the Army, and shared his survival techniques in Special Forces classes. In 1987, Lt.Col. Rowe was assigned to the Philippines, where he assisted in training anti-communists. On April 21, 1989, a machine gun sniper attacked Rowe in his car, killing him instantly.

 

Of the seven U.S. Army Special Forces personnel captured at Hiep Hoa and Tan Phu, the fates of only Versace and Roraback remain unknown. The execution was never fully documented; it is not known with certainty that these two men died. Although the Vietnamese claim credit for their deaths, they did not return their remains. From the accounts of those who knew them, if these men were not executed, they are still fighting for their country.

 

 

The book "Pacific Stars and Stripes, VIETNAM Front Pages" published in 1986

states:

 Pacific Stars and Stripes

Five Star Edition

Vol. 19, No. 304

Friday, Nov. 1, 1963

 

3 Aides Seized in Vietnam Battle

 

Saigon (AP) Communist guerrilas smashed a Republic of Vietnam task force after disrupting its radio communication Tuesday, and probably captured all three U.S. Army advisers with the 120-man Saigon outfit.

 

The three Americans listed as missing and believed captured were two officers and an enlisted medic. Stragglers returning from the rout said both officers had been wounded early in the fight -- one in the head and one the other in the leg.

 

The Army identified the three as Capt. Hubert R. Versace, Baltimore; 1st Lt. James M. Rowe, McAllen Tx; and Sgt. Daniel L. Pitzer, Spring Lake, N.C.

 

A second government force of about 200 men operating only a few thousand yards from the main fight, learned of the disaster too late to help. U.S. authorities said the communist radio jammers had knowcked out both the main channel and the alternate channel on all local military radios.

 

  Pacific Stars and Stripes

Five Star Edition

Vol 21, No. 270

Tuesday, Sept. 28, 1965

 

Report 2 Advisers Executed

 

Saigon (UPI) -- The Viet Cong executed two captive servicemen Sunday morning, the clandestine Liberation Radio said late Sunday night.

 

The communist radio identified the two Americans as Capt. Albert Rusk Joseph and Sgt. Kenneth Morabeth (as received phonetically).

 

American authorities in Saigon were comparing the names with a list of missing American servicemen to determine if any such individuals were, indeed, communist captives. The reported executions came less than three days after the Vietnamese government's execution of three convicted Viet Cong terrorists in Da Nang.

 

In revenge for the last previous execution of a Viet Cong by the governemnt. the communists announced that they had executed Sgt. Harold Bennett, of Arkansas, on June 24.

 

-------------------

 

In 1999 efforts were underway to nominate Rocky Versace for the Medal of

Honor.

 

------------------------

Sarasota Herald-Tribune

Tuesday, July 13, 1999

 

B SECTION

 

Ceremony honors a fallen soldier, and a mother remembers her son Rocky

Versace died at the hands of Viet Cong captors in 1965.

 

Nancy Pasternack STAFF WRITER

 

En route to his new duty station in Vietnam, Rocky Versace stopped to see

his brother, Steve, in Hawaii and challenged him to a game of one-on-one

basketball. Four and a half hours later, Rocky finally accomplished the feat

that had evaded him through childhood.

 

"I told him he'd never beat me. But he wouldn't let me go until he'd won."

Steve said. "That was Rock."

 

Rocky Versace died at the hands of Viet Cong captors in 1965. He was

honored Monday with a Special Forces patch and unit membership certificate.

His 81-year-old mother, Tere Rios Versace, accepted the awards on her son's

behalf at Sarasota's Bayou assisted-living facility, where she lives.

 

Attending the ceremony were Medal of Honor recipient Franklin D. Miller, a

Vietnam veteran who lives in St. Petersburg Beach, and retired Army Lt.

Gen. Howard Crowell of Sarasota County.

 

Crowell roomed with Versace when they were serving in Camau, Vietnam. Then

a captain, Crowell was one of many soldiers who searched for Versace by

helicopter after he was captured.

 

Versace is credited with helping save the lives of two other captives

through his steadfast refusal to submit to demands for information from Viet

Cong interrogators. He was kept in isolation for much of his two-year

captivity, shackled in a tiny bamboo cage, according to Medal of Honor

recommendations recently submitted on his behalf.

 

Nick Rowe, who escaped three years after Versace's death, later paid

tribute to Versace in "Five Years to Freedom," a book about his experience

as a prisoner of war.

 

The last time Rowe heard Versace's voice, according to an anecdote from

the book, Versace was singing 'God Bless America,' one of many things he did

to boost the morale of other captives.

 

"The bottom line," said Maj. Gen. Kenneth R. Bowra, who presented Mrs.

Versace with the awards, "is that the VC could not break his will. You can

do no more than he did."

 

Bowra heads the John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center at Fort Bragg, NC,

headquarters of the Special Forces, also known as the Green Berets.

 

Versace received language training after being commissioned as an officer

from the US Military Academy at Westpoint, and "could tell them (his

captors) to go to hell in Vietnamese, French, and English," his brother

Steve said.

 

 

---------------------------

 

DUANE E. FREDERIC

E-mail: defrederic@email.msn.com

 

August 28, 1999

Major General Kenneth R. Bowra, USA

Commanding General

US Army Special Warfare Command

Ft. Bragg, NC 28307-5200

 

Dear General Bowra,

 

Enclosed is my revised staff study (now dated August 28, 1999), which

has been expaned by several pages to include new archival material as

follows:

 

In a document dated 1 October 1968 from the Joint Personnel Recovery

Center run by HQ, MACV entitled "Organization and Methods of Operation

of Prisoner of War Camps in VC Military Zone III (IV Corps), information

was provided from the detailed interrogation of a captured VC cadreman

who had the principal duty of interrogating U.S. prisoners held in the

IV Corps [Mekong Delta] area as follows:

 

". . . However, the foreign prisoners were praiseworthy on their spirit

of military discipline. Although they were prisoners, they still

respected their higher ranking officers. This was the case with Captain

Versace in particular. He was captured and kept in the same place with

Lt. Roweand Sergeant Pitzer. He refused to decalre anything. Lt. Rowe

and Sergeant Pitzer imitated him. Captain Versace later was moved to

another hut. But in the old hut, Lt. rowe began to show himself as the

leader, and Serg eant Pitzer reapected him as he had respected Captain

Versace before.

 

"Even though they had been living in hardship, enduring a severe and

prolonged food shortage and sickness, even though they had been promised

by the VC to have a better life and to be released soon, they refused to

surrender to the Vc pressure or to denounce their government as well as

their troops as the aggressors."

 

DUANE E. FREDERIC

E-mail: defrederic@email.msn.com

 

August 28, 1999

 

Major General Kenneth R. Bowra, USA

Commanding General

US Army Special Warfare Command

Ft. Bragg, NC 28307-5200

 

 

THRU

 

 

The Honorable John Warner, U.S.S.

United States Senate

Washington, DC 20510

 

 

TO

 

 

The Honorable Louis Caldera

Secretary of the Army

101 Army Pentagon

Washington, DC 20310-0101

 

 

Good Morning to all distinguished addressees:

 

Enclosed please find my personal staff study that I prepared

recommending posthumous award of the Medal of Honor to U.S. Army Captain

Humbert Roque Versace for conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the

risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty while a prisoner of

war in the Republic of Vietnam, during the period of 29 October 1963 to

26 September 1965. Please include this personal statement along with my

attached staff study in the MOH submission package that you will be

sending to Senator John Warner to be the Congressional sponsor.

 

My staff study was meant to be an objective, scholarly research effort

using archival documents available from government records, and the many

published documents concerning his captivity experience written by

(then) MAJ James Nicholas Rowe. He was the driving force behind the

original effort to get the MOH for CPT Versace, and for whatever reasons

at the time, it was downgraded to a posthumous Silver Star.

 

This letter contains my personal reasons and opinions why I feel that

CPT Versace deserves the MOH.

 

1. The Army as an institution does not have any hard-line POW resisters

from the Vietnam War who were awarded the MOH. The other services

awarded four MOHs to their hard-line POW resisters, which means that by

default, for the history books the Army is saying that either that their

policy was not to honor any POWs, or none of the Army POWs measured up

to Army standards for award of the MOH. I feel strongly that the Army

should have at least one hard-line POW resister with the MOH, and my two

year study of archival documents led me to the conclusion that CPT

Versace easily qualified for posthumous award of the MOH, and that the

Army erred in 1971 when it downgraded the original recommendation to a

posthumous Silver Star. That award was easily justified for CPT

Versace's extraordinary courage in providing covering fire from an

exposed position to permit the CIDG survivors of a deadly ambush time to

escape from the killing zone, but not enough time to prevent his capture

after he was seriously w ounded from B AR fire.

 

In my opinion, CPT Versace willingly sacrificed his life rather than

compromise the Code of Conduct and his West Point principles of Duty,

Honor, and Country. Be vehemently taking on his Viet Cong

interrogators, CPT Versace focused all of their anger toward him

personally, so that 1LT Rowe and SFC Pitzer could survive. By executing

CPT Versace, the VC cadre wanted to use his death as an example of what

would happen to any other hard-line POW resister, but the inspiration

from CPT Versace's heroism enabled Rowe and Pitzer to resist

indoctrination to the best of their ability, and both were tortured by

being confined in arm and leg irons as punishment for not cooperating

with their Viet Cong captors.

 

2. The Army has forgotten about a heroic band of officers and senior

enlisted men who died horrible deaths in brutal jungle captivity during

the early ears of American involvement in Vietnam (1961-1965). They

were very professional soldiers, and upheld the Code of Conduct until

death rather than betray their country and the fellow prisoners. Even

to this day, none of their remains have been repatriated by the

communists, even though they died in their captivity. Unfortunately,

they probably will remain as "unsung heroes" because the Army has not

made an effort to research their stories and honor their heroic

sacrifice with appropriate awards of valor.

 

Fortunately for 1LT Rowe, he was able to escape on 31 December 1969, and

tell the world about the brutality of being a jungle captive of the Viet

Cong for five years, and the lasting impression that CPT Versace's

bravery and willingness to accept death rather than compromise his

beliefs with the communists. By honoring CPT Versace with the MOH it

will also honor all of those unsung POWs who died in jungle captivity

and who remain "missing in action" so far from home. Perhaps it will

get the Secretary of t he Army to appoint a group of historians to

re-examine their individual cases and award appropriate medals of valor

to which they gave their lives rather than betray our country.

 

3. At the time of 1LT Rowe's escape from captivity of 31 December 1968,

he was being moved to VC zone headquarters, to comply with an execution

order signed by the central committee of the National Liberation Front,

to be carried out on or before 30 January 1969.

 

On 21 April 1989 that open execution order was carried out by a very

experienced assassination team from the communist New People's Army of

the Philippines as COL Rowe was being driven to his job at the Joint

U.S. Military Advisory Group, in Quezon City, Philippine Islands. He

was killed instantly with a single hit to his head fired from a burst by

an assassin's M-16 rife.

 

In the June 1, 1968 issue of Far Eastern Economic Review, senior New

People's Army cadre Celso Minquez told Review reporter Margot Cohen

 

that the communist underground wished to send "a message to the

American people by hilling a Vietnam veteran. "We want to let

them know that their government is making the Philippines

another Vietnam," said Minquez, a founder of the communist

insurgency in Bicol and participant in the abortive 1986 peace

talks with President Corazon Aquino's government. "The American

people must learn that internal problems in the Philippines must

be solved by Filipinos." If Americans realise (sic) that "their

sons and daughters may be driven here to the Philippines to

fight Filipinos," they might pressure the US Government to

withdraw its military bases from the Philippines, Minquez

argued. In playing on the symbolism of Vietnam, the underground

sought to highlight the broader theme of U.S. intervention.

Indeed, in the weeks following the killing of Rowe- chief of the

army division of the Joint US Military Assistance Group (JUSMAG)

- the insurgents have been successful in renewing public debate

over the US role in the protracted Philippine conflict.

 

I wouldn't have expected the communist government in Vietnam ever to

claim responsibility for ordering COL Rowe's assassination, but I am

sure that they were pleased that he was killed. COL Rowe was probably

the Special Forces' most outstanding hero of the Vietnam War. Since he

initiated the MOH recommendation in 1969, he was distressed that the

Army downgraded it to a posthumous Silver Star award in 1971. In 1972,

(then) MAJ Rowe was quoted as saying:

 

"Now, however, I question the sacrifice of such a man.

"Was it worth it?

"How many people in America today know or remember Rocky Versace?

"How many people even in the Army remember him?

"They've forgotten Rocky Versace. And it is important that he

be remembered.

"We don't have that many Rocky Versaces and we need them.

"It is a tragedy that he is virtually forgotten."

 

I can think of no greater tribute to COL Rowe than to have the Secretary

of the Army convene an awards board of senior officers to review all of

the archival documents and the many testimonial recommendations that CPT

Versace be awarded the Medal of Honor.

 

 

Please be advised that I am a honorably discharged Army Vietnam veteran.

I did not know of either CPT Versace or COL Rowe until reading Five

Years to Freedom in 1997,. That started me to research microfilmed

records of both men available from the Library of Congress, and I got

hooked on trying to track down whatever happened to Rowe's original 1969

MOH recommendation.

 

Along the way I met other ordinary citizens known as "Friends of Rocky

Versace" who felt the same way that I did: that CPT Versace's

outstanding leadership and willingness to sacrifice his life rather than

betray his country or his fellow prisoners was so remarkable that

someone should pick up COL Rowe's original effort and take it back to

the Secretary of the Army for re-consideration.

 

Godspeed to all who will see that the Army gives this resubmission the

careful attention it deserves.

 

 

 

Very truly yours,

 

 

 

Duane E. Frederic

 

 

 

MEDAL OF HONOR

RECOMMENDATION FOR

CAPTAIN HUMBERT ROQUE VERSACE

 

STAFF STUDY PREPARED BY:

 

DUANE E. FREDERIC

 

August 28, 1999

 

PURPOSE: To provide extracts of archival documents and analysis

concerning the captivity experience of Captain Humbert Roque Versace to

support posthumous award of the Congressional Medal of Honor for his

conspicuous risk of life above and beyond the call of duty, while he was

a prisoner of the Viet Cong during the period 29 October 1963 through 26

September 1965 in the Republic of Vietnam. The Fiscal Year 1996

National Defense Authorization Act was enacted into law on February 10,

1996. Section 526 of P ublic Law 104-106 allows for the upgrading of

awards for either an individual or a unit that would otherwise not be

authorized based upon time limitations previously established by law.

 

 

BACKGROUND

 

On 29 October 1963, three Americans were captured by the Viet Cong:

CPT Humbert Roque Versace, 087417; 1LT James Nicholas Rowe, 091033;

and SFC Daniel Lee Pitzer, RA 24457075. CPT Versace (class of

1959) and 1LT Rowe (class of 1960) were the first two West Point

graduates to become POWs during the Vietnam war.

 

CPT Versace was executed by the Viet Cong on or about 26 September

1963; SFC Pitzer was released on humanitarian grounds with two

other American POWs on 11 November 1967; and 1LT Rowe escaped from

VC captivity on 31 December 1968. Rowe provided the most extensive

written record of the captivity experience of himself, Versace, and

Pitzer. Unless identified otherwise, all of the quotations are

from (then) MAJ Rowe, and footnotes are provided for each published

source.

 

 

On 18 November 1969 (then) MAJ Rowe initiated a recommendation for

posthumous award of the Medal of Honor for CPT Versace's bravery while

in captivity. His DA Form 638 (Recommendation for Award) included an

eyewitness statement from (then) MSG Pitzer. Over the years, Pitzer's

statement was removed from the DA Form 638 submission package by

person(s) for unknown reasons, and the entire MOH submission package was

either lost or misfiled by either Department of Defense's Prisoner and

Missing Personnel Office (DPMO), National Records Center in St. Louis,

or the Army's Awards Branch in Alexandria, Virginia. The only record

remaining of the original submission (minus MSG Pitzer's eyewitness

statement) is on a microfilm record contained on reel #273 from the

POW/MIA document collection at the Library of Congress. The quotations

attributed to SFC Pitzer are from his oral history entitled "POW,"

contained in Al Santoli's book To Bear Any Burden.

 

INTRODUCTION

 

In October, 1963, Captain Humbert Roque (Rocky) Versace was an U.S.

Army MAAG intelligence advisor assigned to support ARVN forces

operating in An Xuyen Province in the Mekong Delta Region of South

Vietnam. In (then) MAJ Rowe's memoir of his captivity experience,

Five Years to Freedom, he provides this portrait of CPT Versace's

physical description and personality assessment:

 

"Rocky was a trimly built, twenty-six year-old West Point graduate

who had volunteered for a six-month extension after completing one year

as an adviser. His slightly outthrust jaw and penetrating eyes were

indications of his personality, but his close-cut, black-flecked,

steel-gray hair looked as if it belonged on someone much older."

"Rocky's grin was one of the nicest things about him. . ." ""Once he

understood why something was done, he would accept it. That is, if he

agreed with the reasonin g. I had, in the short time I'd known him,

noticed a dynamic, outspoken frankness. He had an eagerness, and

disregard for danger . . ." "It was a matter of liking Rocky a hell of

a lot or disliking him intensely. He was too positive a personality to

allow any other reactions and his unreserved observations could be quite

abrasive."

 

Captain Versace had been awarded the Combat Infantryman's Badge

while advising ARVN units in combat against the Viet Cong. "The

battles were typical of that period: Vietcong nighttime assaults; chance

daylight encounters with an elusive enemy and the seeming impossibility

of pinning him down; bloody ambushes; lack of adequate air support and

artillery even though our pilots were flying the wings off of the

available T-28's; the frustration that went with the "old war" before

the arrival of jets, arti llery support, and American combat units.

This was the war known to the American advisers, to the isolated U.S.

Special Forces detachments in their efforts to combat the Vietcong in

their own territory. This was Vietnam, 1963."

 

Captain Versace made a liaison visit to the Special Forces Team

A-23 camp at Tan Phu to exchange intelligence reports on enemy

activities in the area. "It was an isolated fortress manned by [a

twelve man] American Special Forces A-Detachment, their Vietnamese

Special Forces (LLDB) counterpart team, and four companies - about 380

men on an average day - of the Civilian Irregular Defense Group. These

were the Vietnamese and Cambodians from the area who had been recruited,

equipped, and trained to resi st the Viet Cong in their home villages."

 

On 28 October 1963, Captain Versace met with the Thoi Binh district

chief and learned that a "small enemy force moved into the small

hamlet of Le Coeur, [located about eight kilometers northwest of

Tan Phu] and was establishing a command post there. The

possibility that it would be used to direct attacks against us

existed and we were going to hit the village, driving out or

killing the VC. We would be taking two of our striker companies and

one of the militia companies from Thoi Binh."

 

"Le Coeur was located in a Vietcong-dominated area on one of the

main canals leading into the dreaded U Minh Forest. We had never

ventured into that area before and the close proximity of the

legendary forest sanctuary of the Vietcong made this a cinch for a

damn good fire fight."

 

A hastily planned operation was scheduled to leave from Tan Phu

before dawn on 29 October 1963. "The basic plan was to hit the hamlet

with one company, while the other two formed an ambush between the

hamlet and the forest. If the VC escaped the assault and ran for the

forest, they would be cut up by the ambush. The two companies would

also have sufficient strength to fight off VC reinforcements coming

from the forest. The problem of fire support was crucial, since the

objective and ambush site were well out of range of our [Tan Phu] camp

mortars, and the 155's [at Thoi Binh] were less effective for close

support."

 

"Rocky announced that he would be going and drew surprised glances

from the [A] team. MAAG advisers weren't allowed to accompany Special

Forces operations, and Al [pseudonym for Special Forces Captain Philip

N. Arsenault, A-23 Detachment Commander] brought this to Rocky's

attention. The probability of making contact with Charlie and provoking

action, coupled with the chance of picking up good intelligence in the

previously untouched village, were enough reason for Rocky. We talked

it over for a whil e, with Rocky insisting that the district chief's

initiation of the operation and militia participation made it a joint

operation and he was going as an adviser to the militia. There was no

way around his determination and it was decided that Rocky and I would

go with [Vietnamese Special Forces] Lieutenant [Lam Quang] Tinh and the

assault company."

 

 

THE BATTLE AND CAPTURE AS REMEMBERED

BY (THEN) 1LT JAMES NICHOLAS ROWE

 

"Now we were going out to hit Le Coeur the [Thoi Binh] district

chief had reported that an irregular platoon of VC were setting up

a Command Post there to direct operations against our camp [Tan

Phu] and the district capital. We were supposed to be looking for

an irregular platoon but I'm pretty certain the district chief knew

there was more than that waiting for us out there. And it turned

out to be four main force battalions.

 

"We had a good plan and a good bunch of troops and when we hit the

hamlet on the edge of the U Minh, the Viet Cong bugged and ran just

as we thought they would . . . but instead of running toward the U

Minh Forest where we had an ambush waiting for them, they ran away

from it.

 

"There was no doubt that we had surprised them. We caught them

completely unaware but they reacted in just the opposite way than

we had anticipated. Instead of falling into our ambush they set us

up for theirs.

 

"One other thing happened that should have been a tipoff that we

were in over our heads on this little "routine" operation -- and I kick

myself in the posterior for not alerting to it at the time: When we

swept the hamlet after we ran them out, we found a Mossin-Nagant

cartridge. It never occurred to me at the time, but guerrillas at that

time had only captured American weapons and that Russian K-44 round

meant that we had not been chasing an irregular Viet Cong unit but

either a well-trained, well-a rmed regional or main force unit.

 

"We started back to camp and about two klicks down the canal, we

looked out on canal nine and saw this whole line of black clad figures

trying to cut us off. They fixed us from 900 meters with automatic

weapons fire and the rounds were going all over the place, inaccurate as

hell from that distance. But it was just effective enough to fix us in

place and pin us . . . Right about then it got hairy. The 60 mm mortars

sounded like a popcorn machine. We were fairly safe because they didn't

have our exa ct range but then a group of our Vietnamese strikers broke

off and ran for the bank of a rice paddy . . . and they knew the range

to that point.

 

"As soon as I saw our guys break for that bank, there was almost

dead silence and I could almost picture it in my mind . . .

watching the VC range those tubes. And then it came. There was

one flight of about 12 rounds and it was almost a complete wipeout

of our people who had run for that bank.

 

"We moved out rapidly then and got into a tree line and set up our

perimeter. And once we got into that perimeter, they hit us with a

blocking force from one side, a pressure force from another side

and the assault from the third side across an open rice paddy.

 

"I never saw so many VC in my life. They must have had at least

three platoons coming across that paddy and they just kept coming.

As long as our strikers had ammunition, it was like a turkey shoot.

 

"Then they began to work us over with 57s and 81 mortars and we

were taking casualties pretty heavily. And out there almost

beckoning to us was that one big open rice paddy that wasn't being

defended and I thought 'what the hell, let's use it.' But then we

realized it was what they wanted us to do. They had it ambushed at

two tree lines on the other side . . . a classical three-sided

attack with an ambushed escape route.

 

"We dug in and tried to stop them from overrunning us.

 

"At this moment two of our planes passed nearby, a T-28 and a

Caribou, and we thought we had it made but the pilot of the T-28,

who had more VC in his sights at that moment than he had ever seen

before, radioed that he couldn't engage without authorization from

Saigon . . . and he flew on.

 

"We had about 120 men and we were dealing out heavy casualties to

the Cong, doing the job we were in Vietnam to do, and we weren't

all that disturbed at first. But then we began to run low on

ammunition and we realized just how many damned VC were out there.

 

"I had an M1, a blued serial-numbered M1C, battle-sighted for 300

yards, and I was doing good work with it across those paddies. I went

through two bandoliers of ammo and you had to hit something everytime

you fired in that mass of bodies coming at us. We had Buddhist Cambods

with tattoos on their chest that were supposed to protect them from harm

and those guys were walking around in our perimeter like it was pay day

in Tan Phu. Rounds were coming in all over the place, mortars, 57s,

small arms fir e, and these guys were walking around checking ammo,

making status reports, laughing, and joking and stacking up Charlie like

cord wood 10 to 15 meters in front of our positions.

 

"They were bloodying Charly's (sic) nose, something awful. They

had never been in a shootout like this before . . . and they were

winning, and it felt good. And in the back of all our minds was

the thought that First Company, which had preceded us back to camp

after we had hit the hamlet, would be back to give us a hand.

 

"It was when we got the report that First Company had been ambushed

and wasn't going to make it that we got cold lumps in our stomachs.

We knew that the game was up. We weren't going anywhere.

 

"We had reached the point of no return with the Charlies still

coming and we had killed so many of them that we were almost out of

ammunition so Dan Pitzer, the [A-23] team medical supervisor, Rocky

[Versace] and I told the troops to pull out and withdraw and that

we would cover and leap frog back.

 

"Well, boy, that 'withdraw' was the wrong thing to say because our

troops came past us at Mach 3 and accelerating. Dan had the M79,

Rocky had a carbine and I had the M1 and we were picking the VC off

as they came through . . . when suddenly an assault squad came

through the trees and we thought we had had it right there.

 

"Dan caught the first bunch with the M79. When the first guy got

it in the chest, he all but disappeared and the sight stopped the

squad cold. They had never seen the M79 before and the shock of

the weapon's power gave us time to get out of there.

 

"I found our guys in a big ditch and everyone had thrown away their

weapons and were ready to surrender. One of the VNSF [Republic of

South Vietnamese Special Forces] that we called Pee Hole Bandit

(Sgt. Trung) was ready to throw himself on a grenade he had ready.

 

"We got them up and into a cane field, moving them out, pushing

them, covering for them . . . then the sound of a BAR -- there

isn't another sound like it in the world -- came crashing in on us.

Rocky went down with three rounds in the leg.

 

"If he hadn't fallen, he would have been killed by a grenade that

went off on the other side of him. The blast of it caught me in

the face and chest as I was stepping over to help him.

 

"I went over backwards and I thought I was dead. There was just

one big ringing noise and I couldn't see and couldn't hear and

everything was numb. No pain. Just numbness. I tried to get up

and the whole world did a 360 and I went down on my knees to get

straight. Rocky put his arms around my neck and I tried to drag him

off the trail so we could lay dog (sic) until they went past us.

 

"You could hear them screaming and yelling and trailing (sic) like

crazy. We broke reeds back across out trail. Rock wanted to

charge out with the seven rounds he had left in his carbine and get

that many more shots off at the VC. That was all he could think

of.

 

"Finally I showed him that his wounds were pumping like a fire

hydrant and that he would bleed to death before he could pull the

trigger if he didn't let me get a bandage on him. I got the first

compress on his leg and was starting to put the second one on . . .

when all of a sudden the reeds broke open and I head someone

yelling "Do tay len!" Hands up! And there was a Mossin-Nagant and

a U.S. carbine pointing down at us.

 

"They pulled me up after I got the second compress on Rocky -- I

just stayed there bandaging away while they prodded me -- and they

tied my arms with a big VC flag that I had in my pocket. One of

our strikers had given it to me back in the village. They booted

me down the path and when we passed the ditch our people had been

in, I saw our wounded and dead. The VC were stripping the bodies

of uniforms."

 

CAPTIVITY

 

After being stripped of their boots, weapons, and personal

possessions, CPT Versace, 1LT Rowe, and SFC Pitzer were bound and

led barefoot into jungle captivity by their Viet Cong captors,

somewhere in the vast darkness of the U Minh Forest.

 

Upon arrival on the VC jungle prison camp, Captain Versace assumed

command as senior prisoner to represent his fellow Americans, and

immediately was labeled as a trouble maker by his captors for

insisting that the VC honor the Geneva Convention's protections for

captured POWs. The Viet Cong didn't acknowledge any protections

guaranteed to POWs as required by the Geneva Convention, and

considered the three Americans to be "war criminals."

 

Soon CPT Versace was separated from Rowe and Pitzer and put in a

bamboo isolation cage six feet long, two feet wide, and three feet high.

"He was kept in irons, flat on his back, it was dark and hot [from

thatch on the roof and outside bamboo walls], and they only let him out

to use that latrine and to eat. What they were trying to do was to

break him. They even offered better food and they would let him out if

he would cooperate, but he would not. They wanted to get him to (1)

quit arguing with th em (2) and accept their propaganda. The Vietnamese

gave him the word that they knew he was an S-2 Advisor."

 

SFC Pitzer commented in his Oral History "POW," that: "Rocky was

strong in some ways and naive in others. He believed in the Geneva

Convention [rules for treatment of prisoners of war]. He believed

in the Code of Conduct [U.S. military code of honor]. He never

believed that the Vietnamese would ignore the Geneva Convention.

But Nick and I could tell right away that it was no protection. So

our intention was to dummy up and take the punches as they came."

 

The Defense Prisoner and Missing Personnel Office (DPMO) states

that: ". . . CPT Versace demonstrated exceptional leadership by

communicating positively to his fellow prisoners. He lifted morale when

he passed messages by singing them into the popular songs of the day.

When he used his Vietnamese language skills to protest improper

treatment to the guards, CPT Versace was again put into leg irons and

gagged. Unyielding, he steadfastly continued to berate the guards for

their inhuman treatment. The communist guards simply elected harsher

treatment by placing him in an isolation box, to put him out of earshot

and to keep him away from the other US POWs for the remainder of his

stay in camp. However CPT Versace continued to leave notes in the

latrine for his fellow inmates, and continued to sing even louder."

 

Captain Versace wouldn't give his captors any information other

than the big four of name, rank, service number, and date of birth,

as required by the Geneva Convention and the U.S. Code of Conduct.

"Rocky played it straight and they killed him."

 

 

"Rocky walked his own path. All of us did but for that guy, duty,

honor, country was a way of life. He was the finest example of an

officer I have known. To him it was a matter of liberty or death, the

big four and nothing more. There was no other way for him. Once, Rocky

told our captors that as long as he was true to God and true to himself,

what was waiting for him after this life was far better than anything

that could happen now. So he told them that they might as well kill him

then and the re if the price of his life was getting more from him than

name, rank, and serial number.

 

"I'm satisfied that he would have it no other way. I know that he

valued that one moment of honor more than he would have a lifetime

of compromises."

 

Pitzer observed that: "The VC realized Rocky was a captain, Nick a

lieutenant, and I a sergeant, so they singled him out as ranking

man. Rocky stood toe to toe with them. He told them to go to hell

in Vietnamese, French, and English. He got a lot of pressure and

torture, but he held his path. As a West Point grad, it was Duty,

Honor, Country. There was no other way. He was brutally murdered

because of it."

 

DPMO records reveal that: "Still suffering from debilitating

injuries in the prison camp dispensary three weeks later, CPT Versace

took advantage of the first opportunity to escape when he attempted to

drag himself on his hands and knees out of the camp through dense swamp

and forbidding vegetation to freedom. Crawling at a very slow pace, the

guards quickly discovered him outside the camp and recaptured him.

After recapture CPT Versace was returned to leg irons and his wounds

were left untreated. H e was placed on a starvation diet of rice and

salt. During this time period Viet Cong guards told other U.S. POWs in

the camp that despite beatings, CPT Versace refused to give in. On one

occasion a guard attempted to coerce him to cooperate by twisting the

wounded and infected leg, to no avail. They described Versace as an

'uncooperative' prisoner."

 

Another eyewitness to CPT Versace's escape attempts was Phung Van

Tuong, former cadre at the camp where Versace, Rowe, and Pitzer were

held. Tuong rallied to the Saigon government in 1967, and is quoted in

"Ex-Vietcong Aide Tells of American P.O.W.'s," by Bernard Weinraub,

which appeared in the New York Times, November 14, 1967: "Captain

Versacre (sic) tried to escape four times, Lieutenant Row (sic) tried

about three times. They were beaten and had their feet manacled after

each escape. Their rice ration was also cut."

 

In February, 1964 the VC cadre forced the American prisoners to

attend a political school, which was a combination of 2,000 years of

Vietnamese history of repelling foreign invaders from the Chinese all

the way to the Americans and their Saigon "puppet" government, and

intense political indoctrination from the VC perspective. The VC

concept was to repeat the same themes over and over, so that after

months of hearing the same lessons, prisoners would become

"re-educated" to accept the communist view of their inevitable victory

over the Americans and the Saigon government, no matter how long it

took to achieve, or the cost in VC and NVA casualties. Rowe recalled

that it took two guards to force Captain Versace to attend, since he

would not go on his own. ". . . I remember Rocky saying 'you can make

me come to this class, but I am an officer in the United States Army.

You can make me listen, you can force me to sit here, but I don't

believe a word of what y ou are saying."

 

Rowe recalled that ". . . [Dan and I] adopted a sit-and-listen

attitude between bouts of body-wrenching dysentery, feeling the more

we said, the worse off we'd be. "Rocky, on the other hand, was

engaging all comers. I could hear Mr. Moui's voice climb an octave

from its already high pitch as Rock would contradict something Muoi

had said. Major Hai spoke fluent French, and I could picture

Rocky's complete absorption in debating each of these men in a

different language as a method of occupying his mind. Ba would

completely lose his composure, yelling "No! No! No!" when Rocky

maneuvered him into a contradiction, using Ba 's lack of familiarity

with English to tri p him up. After a while, the cadre stayed

primarily with French and English to prevent the guards from

understanding Rocky's counterarguments which might have adversely

influenced the indoctrinations they were receiving."

 

Eventually, the central committee of the National Liberation Front

judged Captain Versace to be a reactionary, which meant that he was

unworthy of the Viet Cong's so-called "lenient and humanitarian"

treatment. He was removed from camp and taken to zone headquarters.

DPMO states" ". . . the last time that any of his fellow prisoners

heard from him, CPT Versace was singing "God Bless America" at the top

of his voice from his isolation box. On 29 September 1965 the National

Liberation Front announced that they had executed CPT Versace,

reportedly in reprisal for actions of the South Vietnamese

Government."

 

"The second example was a guard who spoke no English, he was

Vietnamese, and he was in a camp. Rocky was put in solitary

[confinement], and this guard was one of the ones who was in the camp

trying to indoctrinate Rocky, and I saw the guard later on when he came

over to my camp after Rocky was executed, and based on his sessions with

Rocky when he tried to convince Rocky that they were right, he knew two

English words--bull----. But these were the only two words that that

(sic) guard knew, and that w as Rocky's answer to everything that guard

told him."

 

 

EPILOGUE

 

SFC Pitzer was released along with two other American POWs on 11

November 1967, in a humanitarian gesture by the National

Liberation Front to support their propaganda efforts in the United

States. Pitzer died in 1995.

 

Out of eight American prisoners held in captivity with Rowe (but

not all at the same time), three died of starvation and disease; Versace

was executed; three were released because they were in immediate danger

of dying from starvation and disease; and Rowe was able to escape to

freedom on 31 December 1968. The survival rate was 50%. Had the three

prisoners not been released, and Rowe not escaped, the survival rate

would have been 0% because they all would have died eventually from

starvation, diseas e, and deliberate withholding of medical treatment.

None of the VC guards died from starvation or disease, just the

Americans.

 

 

In the Spring of 1969, (then) MAJ Rowe addressed the Corps of

Cadets at West Point: ". . . I think the thing here is Rocky set

an example. He died for what he believed in. He died for his

actions, but he is a man who I believe will be remembered, and I am

going to see that he is remembered.

 

"If anybody is in a situation similar, here is a man you can look

to. Perhaps not the way he went or what happened to him, but this was

Rocky's choice. He could have bent, he could have broken, he could have

lived. But he chose not to, and this was primarily because he was a

West Pointer. And this is of importance to all of us because we are all

in the same boat. And in a very few years, you are going to be coming

into contact with this conflict, and there may be those among you who

will be coming into the same kind of contact that Rocky did, so remember

him. I am going to see that people do because for me he was the

greatest example of what an officer should be that I have ever come in

contact with."

 

On 17 November 1969 (then) MAJ Rowe submitted a recommendation for

posthumous award of the Medal of Honor to CPT Versace. It was

downgraded on 19 May 1971 to posthumous award of the Silver Star

Medal.

 

In 1971 Rowe's captivity experience Five Years to Freedom was

published.

 

In 1972, Rowe was quoted as saying: "Now, however, I question the

sacrifice of such a man. "Was it worth it? "How many people in

America today know or remember Rocky Versace? "How many people even

in the Army remember him? "They've forgotten Rocky Versace. And it

is important that he be remembered. We don't have that many Rocky

Versaces and we need them. "It is a tragedy that he is virtually

forgotten."

 

Nick Rowe isn't alive to lead the effort to get reconsideration of

the Medal of Honor for Rocky Versace. In 1989, COL James Nicholas Rowe

was chief of the ground forces division of the Joint U.S. Military

Advisory Group in Manila, Philippine Islands. His office was

responsible for coordinating the use of US security assistance with the

Philippine military. On 21 April 1989, a team of experienced assassins

from the New People's Army of the Communist Party of the Philippines

killed Colonel Rowe in hi s chauffeur driven embassy staff car as he was

being driven to work in Quezon City.

 

STATEMENT OF THE PROBLEM:

 

For whatever reasons at the time of Operation Homecoming in 1973, the

U.S. Army never recognized the heroism of any of their hard-core Vietnam

POW resisters (living or dead) with award of the Medal of Honor, while

the other services did. It is possible that the Army did not want to

award the MOH to any Army POW as policy. By re-considering CPT

Versace's outstanding leadership in captivity, it will enable the Army

to either given him the posthumous award of the MOH he deserved when it

was downgraded to a S ilver Star in 1971, or, re-confirm that the Army

did not consider any of their hard-line POW resisters worthy of our

nation's highest award. If no Army POW from Vietnam was worthy of the

MOH, then the Army should establish specific criteria for considering

future hard-line POW resisters in conflicts that will occur in the 21st

century. It is illogical for the Army not to have any heroic POW

resisters from the Vietnam War while the other services awarded four

with the MOH.

 

FACTS BEARING ON THE PROBLEM:

 

Vietnam was a different kind of war from World War II and Korea, and so

was the POW experience in several aspects. There were fewer prisoners

(estimated at about 1,200 military, civilians, and foreign nationals

known to have been captured) for two reasons. There were no mass

surrenders of American forces such as those ordered for the defenders at

Bataan and Corregidor in the Philippines at the beginning of WWII. Nor

were entire American combat units enveloped and overwhelmed, as happened

during the forced withdrawal to the Pusan perimeter at the beginning of

the Korean war. American prisoners were captured in Southeast Asia

individually when soldiers were wounded or became trapped and couldn't

be rescued, or, as crew members of aircraft and helicopters that were

shot down deep in enemy territory.

 

Vietnam was America's longest undeclared war, and as a consequence,

American prisoners endured captivity longer under inhumane conditions

longer than in any previous conflict. (The longest held Army POW,

Special Forces COL Floyd J. Thompson was held captive for two weeks

short of nine years.) North Vietnam and the National Liberation Front

in South Vietnam treated all of their prisoners as "war criminals," and

denied them any protections afforded to POWs by the Geneva Convention.

Unless the communists al lowed a prisoner's name to be known to the

media, those captured vanished without a trace, only to be known about

if seen by another prison who did return.

 

Vietnam was the first conflict where the Code of Conduct guided soldiers

in how to resist communist indoctrination. As in Korea, Vietnam POWs

were subjected to intensive indoctrination sessions, designed by their

communist captors to "re-educate" them over time to collaborate with the

enemy, mainly for propaganda purposes, but also to stir up disunity

within prisoner ranks.

 

There were four hard-line POW resisters who were awarded the MOH during

the Vietnam war. Two died in captivity from torture/starvation and

received posthumous awards of the MOH. Marine Colonel (then Captain)

Donald Cook was captured by the Viet Cong and kept in captivity not too

far away from CPT Versace. Air Force Captain Lance P. Sijan was

captured in North Vietnam, and died from torture at the hands of the

NVA. CPT Versace's resolute resistance until he was executed is equal

to these two brave Americ ans who also died while in captivity.

 

Two hard-line POW resisters held captive by the NVA and released during

Operation Homecoming in 1973 who were awarded he MOH: Air Force Colonel

George E. Day, and Navy Vice Admiral (then Captain) James Bond

Stockdale. It is because they weren't beaten to death or executed by

the NVA that they returned alive.

 

NOTE: Three other POWs received MOHs, but their citations were for

their individual acts of courage before being captured. Two returned

from Hanoi during Operation Homecoming in 1973: Air Force Colonel (then

Major) Leo K. Thorsness, and Army Special Forces Master Sergeant (then

SSG) Jon R. Caviani. The family of Army Sergeant (then PFC) William D.

Port received his posthumous MOH, awarded for shielding fellow 1st Air

Cavalry Division soldiers from a grenade blast. Port was left for dead

on the battlefi eld, was captured by NVA soldiers, but never received

any medical treatment for his wounds. He lived another 10 months as a

POW, and died in agony from starvation and medical neglect of his

original wounds.

 

 

Evidently the other services had no reservations about recognizing their

hard-line POW resisters with award of the MOH. As a result, the Air

Force has two, the Navy and Marines each have one, and the Army has no

hard-line POW resisters for the history books. By default then, the

Army as an institution is depriving itself of recognizing courageous

soldiers who willingly died rather than tarnish the Code of Conduct.

 

In 1999, a comprehensive official history of the American POW

experience during the Vietnam War was published by the Historical Office

of the Secretary of Defense. Honor Bound: The History of American

Prisoners of War in Southeast Asia, 1961-1973, was co-authored by OSD

Deputy historian Stuart I. Rochester and Frederick Kiley, English

professor at the Air Force Academy.

 

There are at least a half-dozen Army "unsung heroes" mentioned in Honor

Bound who are deserving of being considered for award of the MOH or the

Army's highest award for valor, the Distinguished Service Cross. There

are three categories of valor that should be recognized by the Army for

their unsung heroes who died in jungle captivity at the hands of enemy

forces as follows:

 

The Viet Cong publicly announced that these courageous Army servicemen

were executed in retaliation for the execution of Viet Cong terrorists

by the South Vietnamese government: CPT Humbert Roque Versace, MSG

Kenneth M. Roraback, and SP4 Harold George Bennett. There is ample

evidence that they were selected for execution based on their hard-line

resistance to VC interrogation and indoctrination. These brave Army

personnel died during brutal jungle captivity primarily from starvation,

aggravated by a variety of diseases, and deliberate withholding of life

saving medical treatment: CPT William F. Eisenbraun (credited with two

unsuccessful escapes); CPT Walter Hugh Moon (captured in Laos and

murdered by Pathet Lao forces); CPT John Robert Schumann; CPT Orien J.

Walker (kept in a solitary cage for a year after an unsuccessful escape

attempt, his Viet Cong captors deliberately starved him to death to p

revent any further escapes); SFC Joe Parks; and SGT Leonard Masayon

Tadios (credited with two unsuccessful escapes). CPT Walker, SFC

Parks, and SGT Tadios were held in the same camp with 1LT Rowe and SFC

Pitzer. An unknown number of Army POWs died while attempting to escape

from captivity. Two that were known to have been killed attempting to

escape from jungle captivity were: PFC Joe Lynn DeLong, and SFC Howard

B. Lull, Jr.

 

None of the remains of the above brave American soldiers have been

repatriated by the communist government of Vietnam.

 

Dr. Stuart Rochester, Deputy Historian, Office of the Secretary of

Defense, and co-author of Honor Bound has endorsed the effort to

revisit the MOH for CPT Versace. In a letter dated April 2, 1999 he

stated that: ". . .This letter is a personal statement and does not

reflect any official position taken by this office, but it is based on

a carefully considered judgment of the Versace case and extensive

knowledge of the conduct and behavior of American POWs during the

Vietnam War. Air Force POW Lance Sijan and Marine POW Donald Cook were

awarded the Medal of Honor posthumously for their gallantry in

captivity. Each was truly an exceptional and deserving case, for both

their invincible courage and their stalwart adherence to the Code of

Conduct. No imprisoned Army hardliner deserves to be in their company

more than Rocky Versace."

 

Most recipients of the MOH exhibited bravery for actions against the

enemy that were measured in minutes or hours. Life for a POW,

especially for the jungle captives in South Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos,

was being at war against the enemy on a 24 hour basis for every day of

captivity. Every day was a struggle to live on a starvation diet of

rice and salt, while resisting the on-going war of indoctrination

conducted by the communist cadre, who used physical torture and withheld

medical treatment and mosqui to nets from the prisoners as leverage to

get them to sign statements disloyal to the American government. Rowe

observed that ". . . I learned that Rocky had been put in both leg and

arm irons upon arrival at this camp and kept in them day and night. The

increased restraints had only served to strengthen his determination,

and even though he was unable to leave his cage except to go to a

separate latrine, he managed to look in better physical condition than

either Dan [Pitzer] or me."

 

Rowe's description of his physical pain inflicted by being put into the

irons is indicative of the agony also suffered by CPT Versace:

 

". . . my legs were thrust into the regular iron that I'd been using.

Then Slim [pseudonym for one of his VC guards] grabbed my arms and,

fitting the U-shaped pieces over my biceps, ran the long bar under my

back, through the loops in the anklets, fastening my arms to my sides.

I watched with a detached interest as he proceeded to pull the bar up

under my shoulder blades, canting the anklets back at a 45-degree angle

and fastening the two ends of the rod, making it impossible for me to do

any more than be nd my arms at the elbows. The leg iron was pulled

downward until I winced with pain. "Dau, khong?" he asked without

emotion - Is there pain? I nodded, yes. He grunted and gave it an

extra tug, sending spikes of pain into already cramping muscles."

 

Rowe provides another description of the torture from being confined in

irons that continued the next morning, which is also indicative of that

also suffered by CPT Versace:

 

"While relocking the arm irons on that morning, Slim had checked the

tautness of my restrictive clamps, pulling down on the leg irons until

the rough surfaced angle bar cut into flesh and I winced. The iron bar

under my shoulder blades was fastened securely and I felt myself being

stretched even more cruelly between the two rods. My arms were being

puled back and downward while my feet and legs were stretched in the

opposite direction. It was like being on a rack. Dau, khong?" Slim

asked. I couldn't answer as I tried to arch and pull a little slack

without success. All I did was tear two raw spots above my arches as

the iron rubbed sharply.

 

"Thua Anh Giai Phong," I said as levelly as possible, "toi co dau

nhieu." - I have a lot of pain.

 

 

"He looked at me a moment, then grunted "Ua," and splashed back to

the guard hut." If the guards didn't let prisoners out the irons to

go to the latrine, they were further burdened mentally by the

indignity of having to lie in the stench of their own urine and feces

until they were released from the irons and allowed to take a bath in

a nearby canal.

 

JUSTIFICATION OF THE MEDAL OF HONOR

FOR CPT HUMBERT ROQUE VERSACE

 

CPT Versace distinguished himself by conspicuous gallantry and

intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty

while a prisoner of war as follows:

 

EVIDENCE OF CONSPICUOUS GALLANTRY

AND INTREPIDITY AT THE RISK OF HIS LIFE

ABOVE AND BEYOND THE CALL OF DUTY

 

 

1. Though suffering from a badly wounded and infected leg wound, CPT

Versace assumed the position of Senior American Prisoner and demanded

that the Viet Cong treat the American prisoners according to the

protections of the Geneva Convention. He protested vehemently when the

VC cadre refused to recognize them as "prisoners of war," but treated

them instead as "war criminals," subject to the whims of individual

cadre to decide matters of life or death. For his vociferous

protestations against starvation rations, lack of adequate medical

treatment for their wounds suffered when captured, deliberate

withholding of medicines to treat life threatening diseases, and the

overall sub-human living conditions in a brutal jungle environment, CPT

Versace was soon ordered to be kept in an isolation hut with thatch on

the roof and sides, which made mid-day temperatures inside as hot as an

oven. This punishment hut, kept out of sight from the other prisoners,

was six feet long, two fe et wide, and only three feet high . It was

meant to break CPT Versace physically, especially with the addition of

leg and arm irons, and mentally, from the intense heat, lack of

sufficient food and water, and the claustrophobia that could be expected

to result from being entombed in such a confining space. The leg irons

prevented him from turning, so the guards would position Versace either

face up or face down for hours at at a time unless they released him for

meals and latrine runs.

 

CPT Versace's exceptional faith in God, Country, and his fellow

prisoners, and his resolve to uphold every tenet of the Code of Conduct

despite the temptations from his captors offering more food, better

treatment and early release if only he would co-operate by making

disloyal statements, distinguish him as the toughest hard-line resister

among all of the Army jungle captives who did not return at Operation

Homecoming.

 

2. CPT Versace established a communications system using a message

drop at the latrine. Fortunately for the Americans, the VC did not

guard the latrine, so written messages could be left at the latrine.

When CPT Versace was not permitted to use the latrine, he would sign

inspiring messages to his fellow prisoners using the tunes of popular

songs of the day.

 

3. CPT Versace's conspicuous resistance to the VC cadre's attempts at

interrogation and indoctrination inspired his fellow prisoners to resist

to the utmost of their ability. In a document dated 1 October 1968

from the Joint Personnel Recovery Center run by HQ, MACV entitled

"Organization and Methods of Operation of Prisoner of War Camps in VC

Military Zone III (IV Corps), information was provided from the detailed

interrogation of a captured VC cadreman who had the principal duty of

interrogating U.S. p risoners held in the IV Corps [Mekong Delta] area

as follows:

 

". . . However, the foreign prisoners were praiseworthy on their spirit

of military discipline. Although they were prisoners, they still

respected their higher ranking officers. This was the case with Captain

Versace in particular. He was captured and kept in the same place with

Lt. Rowe and Sergeant Pitzer. He refused to declare anything. Lt. Rowe

and Sergeant Pitzer imitated him. Captain Versace later was moved to

another hut. But in the old hut, Lt. Rowe began to show himself as the

leader, and Se rgeant Pitzer respected him as he had respected Captain

Versace before.

 

"Even though they had been living in hardship, enduring a severe and

prolonged food shortage and sickness, even though they had been promised

by the VC to have a better life and to be released soon, they refused to

surrender to the VC pressure or to denounce their government as well as

their troops as the aggressors.

 

"Some prisoners agreed to confess their aggressive guilt and denounce

the U.S. government and Army because they hated to be bothered by the VC

who criticized them, indoctrinated and forced them write and re-write

until their confessions were just as the VC wanted them. In fact the

foreign prisoners had never been "awakened" by the NFL's policy.

 

"These foreign prisoners were always homesick. They looked sad and

rarely talked together. Some of them had lost their hope but they

always calmly endured their situation."

 

4. CPT Versace's escape attempts were noted by at least two defecting

VC cadremen, and 1LT Rowe.

 

He made four escape attempts, according to defecting VC cadreman Phung

Van Tuong, aka Vo Ha Dume in an article written by Bernard Weinraub

appearing in the November 14, 1967 issue of the New York Times entitled

"Ex-Vietcong Aide Tells of American P.O.W.'s."

 

There is an American interrogation report number US 1993-68, from the

Combined Military Interrogation Center, dated 23 July 1968 on source #

C-1504, concerning defecting VC cadreman Nguyen Van Thanh, aka Ba Hoang.

His descriptions of two American officers matches CPT Versace and 1LT

Rowe perfectly, except that the American interrogator, USAF MSG E. M.

Isbell has reversed the two American names with their descriptions, so

that the Captain is incorrectly named "RAU" (sic) [ROWE], and the

Lieutenant is inco rrectly named "YE-SA-SE" (sic) [VERSACE].

 

 

This mis-identification can be verified by Nguyen Van Thanh's

description that "the prisoners were made to raise their hands in

surrender and pictures were taken. CPT "RAU" did not raise his hands

and was very uncooperative." Rowe describes the propaganda photo

session as follows in "Five Years to Freedom":

 

"Minutes later I was pulled to my feet and led to the field once again.

After the blindfold was pulled away and my arms untied, I was to put my

hands over my head. I saw the photographer with his camera poised and

decided to comply. As I started to raise my hands, the smallest of the

guards stepped up behind me holding a rifle that was almost as long as

he was tall. I dropped my arms, but heard the shutter click. The

older cadre yelled for me to put my arms back in the air. By this time

I was weighing the advantages and disadvantages of pushing them in a

dispute over a photo of me with my hands up. I placed my hands on my

head and stood while the photographer snapped several shots."

 

 

Nguyen Van Thanh describes three escape attempts made by the captain:

". . . The first time he got away for two days, but was found by the

local people and turned in to the VC. The second time he got lost in

the swamps and the VC went looking for him. The third time he got

200m[eters] away, but the guards saw him and fired at him to make him

stop; upon recapture, he was beaten by guards. After this he was kept

by himself in a hut, and at night he was tied by the hands, feet and

neck so he would not escape."

 

Rowe observed that on the evening of 21 November 1964, there was a

commotion by the guards: ". . . Moui [VC cadre] was visibly incensed and

snapped that "Versace was very bad" and had attempted to leave the camp.

Rocky, with a wounded leg, surrounded by deep mud terrain and camp full

of guards, had tried to escape. He had more guts than brains to try it

at this point, and he was caught, pulling himself through the oozing

slime toward the canal. I learned later from him that he was attempting

to reach the canal where he could swim and possibly make it northward to

a frie ndly outpost. Before the cadre had assumed from Rocky's opinions

that they had a hard case on their hands. Now they knew it."

 

5. CPT Versace willingly sacrificed his life by focusing all of the

anger of the VC cadre on him, instead of 1LT Rowe and SFC Pitzer, so

that they might have a better chance to survive. By constantly arguing

loudly with his communist cadre in English, Vietnamese, and French, he

caused them considerable consternation during a "political school" that

was supposed to get the Americans to write statements disloyal to the

U.S. government and their South Vietnamese allies. Instead, they got

nothing but very loud arguments as CPT Versace was able to take on three

indoctrinators easily in three languages. Soon the cadre resorted to

conducting their indoctrination sessions with CPT Versace only in

Engligh because they were "losing face" in front of their own men. CPT

Versace resolutely refused to violate the Code of Conduct by giving any

more information that the required big four of name, rank, service

number, and date of birth. He told his captors that he was willing to

accept death rather than compromise t he Code of Conduct and his West

Point ideals of Duty, Honor, and Country. His unshakable belief in God

sustained him throughout his captivity until his death.

 

CPT Versace's outstanding leadership inspired 1LT Rowe and SFC Pitzer to

endure torture and the brutal hardships of jungle captivity rather than

compromise the Code of Conduct.

 

ANALYSIS OF TWO OTHER POSTHUMOUS MOH RECIPIENTS:

 

Comparison with Marine CPT Donald Cook

 

CPT Versace's outstanding leadership closely parallels that of Marine

CPT Donald Cook. Both were held captive in the jungle by the Viet Cong.

Both immediately took on the responsibility for being senior prisoner,

and established a chain of command and crude communications system using

a message drop at the latrine. Both officers refused to negotiate for

their own release or better treatment. Both refused to "stray even the

slightest form the Code of Conduct," which earned both men the deepest

respect fr om their fellow prisoners and also grudging respect from

their captors. Both frustrated attempts by their VC captors to break

their indomitable spirit, and both passed on the same resolve to their

fellow prisoners. Both realized that their continued resistance to the

communists would result in their certain death, which they willingly

accepted rather than disgrace the Code of Conduct and their country's

honor.

 

What was different in the captivity experiences between Cook and Versace

were:

 

Because CPT Versace was held in strict isolation and in irons early in

his captivity, there was no other American to share his food with.

Further, irate guards would torture him by pulling on his infected left

leg which caused CPT Versace to scream out from the intense pain.

 

CPT Versace made four escape attempts according to one of his former VC

cadreman Phung Van Tuong, and three escape attempts according to another

former cadreman Nguyen Van Thanh.

 

Right from the beginning, CPT Versace was judged to be a reactionary, by

his communist indoctrinates. He was able to argue point by point in

fluent Vietnamese, French, and English in every indoctrination session.

Other prisoners could hear CPT Versace yelling at the cadre. As fellow

prisoner Nick Rowe said, "they couldn't break Rocky. They couldn't even

bend him." When the VC couldn't break him, they executed him to set an

example to other American prisoners what would happen to those who

resisted indoc trination sessions.

 

Comparison with Air Force CPT Lance Sijan

 

Here the comparisons are centered around both men's indomitable spirit

of resistance, determination to escape, and upholding the Code of

Conduct until death. CPT Sijan was shot down in North Vietnam and

evaded capture for six weeks. When captured, he escaped but was

recaptured after several hours. Transferred to the Hanoi prison system,

he endured death when his body couldn't recover from the severe physical

torture inflicted upon him. He wanted to live to try another escape, but

death intervened.

 

CONCLUSION:

 

CPT Versace's indomitable spirit of resistance ended when he was

executed by the Viet Cong. His personal valor, outstanding leadership

as Senior Prisoner, unshakable faith in God and Country, and willingness

to accept death before dishonor inspired 1LT Rowe and SFC Pitzer to

survive under extreme conditions of brutal jungle captivity. "The last

time any of his fellow prisoners heard from him, CPT Versace was singing

God Bless America at the top of his voice from his isolation box." He

truly live Point ideals of Duty, Honor, Country, and is worthy of our

nation's highest award for valor, the Medal of Honor.

 

 

PROPOSED CITATION

 

The President of the United States of America in the name of The

Congress takes pride in presenting the Medal of Honor posthumously

to:

 

CAPTAIN HUMBERT ROQUE VERSACE

UNITED STATES ARMY

CITATION:

 

For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life

above and beyond the call of duty while a prisoner of war during the

period of 29 October 1963 to 26 September 1965 in the Republic of

Vietnam. While accompanying a Civilian Irregular Defense Group patrol

engaged in combat operations in Thoi Binh District, An Xuyen Province,

Republic of Vietnam on 29 October 1963, Captain Versace and the CIDG

assault force were caught in an ambush from intense mortar, automatic

weapons, and small arms f ire from elements of a reinforced enemy Main

Force battalion. As the battle raged, Captain Versace fought valiantly

and encouraged his CIDG patrol to return fire against overwhelming enemy

forces. He provided covering fire from an exposed position to enable

friendly forces to withdraw from the killing zone when it was apparent

that their position would be overrun, and was severely wounded in the

knee and back from automatic weapons fire and shrapnel. He stubbornly

resisted capt ure with the last full mea sure of his strength and

ammunition. Taken prisoner by the Viet Cong, he demonstrated

exceptional leadership and resolute adherence to the tenants of the Code

of Conduct from the time he entered into a prisoner of war status.

Captain Versace assumed command of his fellow American prisoners, and

despite being kept locked in irons in an isolation box, raised their

morale by singing messages to popular songs of the day, and leaving

inspiring messages at the latrine. Within three weeks of captivity, and

desp ite the severity of his untreated wounds, he attempted the first of

four escape attempts by dragging himself on his hands and knees out of

the camp through dense swamp and forbidding vegetation to freedom.

Crawling at a very slow pace due to his weakened condition, the guards

quickly discovered him outside the camp and recaptured him. Captain

Versace scorned the enemy's exhaustive interrogation and indoctrination

efforts, and inspired his fellow prisoners to resist to the best of

their ability. When he u sed his Vietnamese language skills to protest

improper treatment of the American prisoners by the guards, he was put

into leg irons and gagged to keep his protestations out of earshot of

the other American prisoners in the camp. The last time that any of his

fellow prisoners heard from him, Captain Versace was singing God Bless

America at the top of his voice from his isolation box. Unable to break

his indomitable will, his faith in God, and his trust in the United

States of Ame rica and his fellow prison ers, Captain Versace was

executed by the Viet Cong on 26 September 1965. Captain Versace's

extraordinary heroism, self-sacrifice, and personal bravery involving

conspicuous risk of life above and beyond the call of duty were in

keeping with the highest traditions of the United States Army, and

reflect great credit to himself and the U.S. Armed Forces.

 

[note: SOURCES QUOTED - due to need for ASCII .txt - and WPS original, the

numbering for the quotes were lost.]

 

James N. Rowe, Five Years to Freedom, p. 3.

Ibid, p. 6.

Ibid, p. 8.

Ibid, p. 8.

CIB issued per entry "P70168HqMAAB(sic)Vn18Jul63," as noted on CPT

Versace's DA Form 66.

 

Rowe, Five Years to Freedom, pp. 3-5.

Ibid, p. 5.

Ibid, p. 12.

Ibid, p. 10.

Ibid, p. 10.

Ibid, p. 15.

 

MAJ Rowe also used the term "four battalions" in a videotaped lecture

to an Intelligence Branch Advanced Course audience, circa 1969-70.

"Major Rowe - Life in South Vietnam," USAJFKSWCS Videotape # AO

702-00-123. On page 43 of "Major Nick Rowe: Of Army," Rowe wrote: "We

pursued a group that was about platoon-size with our [assault]

company, and we ran into a main force battalion with 11 companies and

over 1000 men."

 

Major James N. Rowe, "The Prisoner," Pacific Stars and Stripes Sunday

Magazine, 22 October 1972, pp. 7-8.

 

MAJ James N. Rowe, Item 23, DA Form 638 (Recommendation for Award), 17

November 1969.

 

Dan Pitzer, "POW," To Bear Any Burden, pp. 93-94.

 

Department of Defense, Prisoner of War and Missing Personnel Office,

unclassified extract of returnees MAJ James N. Rowe and SFC Daniel L.

Pitzer (reference number I-97/21763, dated May 23, 1997.)

 

Rowe, "The Prisoner, p.6.

Ibid, p. 6.

Dan Pitzer, "POW," p. 94.

Defense DPMO unclassified debrief I-97/21763, p. 1.

 

Major James N. Rowe, "Major Nick Rowe: Of Army," Association of

Graduates, U.S.M.A. Assembly Magazine, Spring, 1969, p. 46.

 

 

Rowe, Five Years to Freedom, p. 105.

Defense DPMO unclassified debrief I-97/21763, p. 2.

Rowe, "Major Nick Rowe: Of Army," p. 46.

Rowe, "Major Rowe" Of Army," p. 46.

Rowe, "The Prisoner," p. 6.

Rowe, "Five Years to Freedom," p. 112.

Ibid, p. 193.

Ibid, pp. 199-200.

Rowe, Five Years to Freedom, p. 95. The photograph of 1LT Rowe with

his hands over his head appears on p. 96.

 

Combined Military Interrogation Center Interrogation Report Number US

1993-68, date of Report 23 July 1969, Source C-1504, p.3.

 

Rowe, "Five Years to Freedom," p. 100.

...capture for six weeks. When captured, he escaped but was recaptured

after several hours. Transferred to the...

[text lost]

 

---------------

Wed Nov 03 1999

 

Mrs. Teri Rios Versace, Rocky's mother, passed away November 3rd. The

funeral was held November 12, at the Ft. Myer Old Post Chapel.

Representatives of the Special Operations Command from Fort Bragg were

present. She was buried next to her husband in Arlington National Cemetery.


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