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Bush To Award Medal of Honor

Sunday, 13 January 2002 12:00 AM

President Bush signed legislation authorizing the Medal of Honor for the late Capt. Humbert R. "Rocky” Versace Dec. 28. Mike Faber, president of the Friends of Rocky Versace, told NewsMax that he was hopeful that the medal would be posthumously awarded at the White House to Versace’s surviving brother, Steven in a couple of months.

His fellow captive and author of "Five Years to Freedom,” the late Col. Nick Rowe once admonished: "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.”

Agreeing with Rowe’s assessment, Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz recently told the corps of cadets at the United States Military Academy where Rocky was a member of the Class of ’59: "Look to your left – look down the line to your right. You may well be seeing a hero; you may well be looking at another Rocky Versace.”

Versace, one of the first names appearing on the Vietnam War Memorial’s wall in Washington, D.C., shares a special kinship with the Special Forces in Afghanistan. Like them, Rocky was one of the first to fight and was on dangerous ground gathering intelligence when captured after fighting to his last three rounds of ammunition and twice being wounded by fire.

On October 29, 1963, Versace (near the end of a second tour in Vietnam) and two other American advisors accompanied a Vietnamese Civilian Irregular Defense Group company on an operation near Le Couer, Republic of Vietnam, when they were ambushed.

The three Americans were captured during the eight-hour firefight. For almost two years, Rocky Versace suffered in a Viet Cong prison camp, adamantly refusing to accept his captors’ vicious and inhumane attempts at propagandizing and repeatedly trying to escape.

On September 26, 1965, North Vietnam’s "Liberation Radio” announced the execution of Rocky Versace and another American POW ostensibly in retaliation for the deaths of 3 terrorists in Da Nang.

Versace’s remains have never been recovered. His stone at Arlington National Cemetery stands above an empty grave. The last memory of the remarkable Versace was that of his fellow captives who described the stalwart officer loudly singing "God Bless America,” from his tiger cage the night before his execution.

One of the great ironies of Rocky’s death was that he was just weeks away from leaving the Army and studying for the priesthood. His goal: Returning to Vietnam as a Maryknoll missionary to work with orphaned children.

Retired Lieutenant General Howard G. Crowell, Jr.: "Rocky was indeed obsessed with the idea of duty, honor, country…. No one worked harder or more diligently than he…. He was so eager to accomplish his mission of gathering intelligence that it was bound to get him into danger sooner or later.”

Retired U.S. Army Brigadier General John W. Nicholson: "By spring of 1964 the farmers were talking about one U.S. prisoner in particular. They said he was treated very poorly, led through the area with a rope around his neck, hands tied, bare footed, head swollen and yellow in color (jaundice) and hair white.

"They stated that this prisoner not only resisted the Viet Cong attempts to get him to admit to war crimes and aggression, but would verbally counter their assertions convincingly and in a loud voice so the local villagers could hear.

"The local rice farmers were surprised at his strength of character and his unwavering commitment to God and the United States. The villagers’ descriptions of Versace and his resistance became a topic of conversation we could count on hearing as we periodically operated in these remote areas.

"Villagers described Versace’s deteriorating physical condition and added that the worse he appeared physically, the more he smiled and talked about God and America. Our interpreters told us that Captain Versace impressed the villagers with his faith and inner strength.”

Nick Rowe: "Once, Rocky told our captors 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. 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.”

The long road to his country’s highest military honor shortened in April 2000 when the commandant of the Marine Corps, Gen. James L. Jones, in an unprecedented cross-service move appealed to Army Chief of Staff Gen. Eric K. Shinseki to award the Medal to Versace.

On Dec. 20, 2000 then Army Secretary Louis Caldera approved the Medal. On Jan. 12, 2001 former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Henry Shelton signed off on the authorization, sending it to Congress.

The final Medal legislation, SR1438, was appended to the Defense Reauthorization Bill.

The quest for a Medal of Honor for Versace languished until the Friends of Rocky Versace re-ignited the crusade in early 1999.

The Friends also took the lead in collecting funds for the Rocky Versace Plaza and Vietnam Veterans’ Memorial in Alexandria Va., a memorial to Rocky and 61 other Alexandrians who died in Vietnam. The memorial is slated for dedication in July 2002.

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President Bush signed legislation authorizing the Medal of Honor for the late Capt. Humbert R. Rocky" Versace Dec. 28. Mike Faber, president of the Friends of Rocky Versace, told NewsMax that he was hopeful that the medal would be posthumously awarded at the White House to...
Sunday, 13 January 2002 12:00 AM
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