VERSACE, HUMBERTO ROQUE
VERSACE, HUMBERTO ROQUE MEDAL OF HONOR RECIPIENT
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 2008.
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 investigation. 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:
Five Star Edition Vol. 19, No. 304 Friday, Nov. 1, 1963
3 Aides Seized in Vietnam Battle
Saigon (AP) ...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.....
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).....
In 1999 efforts were underway to nominate Rocky Versace for the Medal of Honor.
------------------------ Sarasota Herald-Tribune Tuesday, July 13, 1999
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......
DUANE E. FREDERIC xxxx xxxx xxxx E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
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 xxxx xxxx xxxx E-mail: email@example.com
August 28, 1999
Major General Kenneth R. Bowra, USA Commanding General US Army Special Warfare Command Ft. Bragg, NC 28307-5200
The Honorable John Warner, U.S.S. United States Senate Washington, DC 20510
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 xxxx xxxx xxxx
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.
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.
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."
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."
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.
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.
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.
Giving Defiant One His Due THE WASHINGTON POST, Monday, May 28, 2001, Page A17
Washington-His head was swollen, his hair completely white and his skin turned yellow from jaundice. He was rail thin, 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 continuously argued with his captors - using Vietnamese and French to rebut their propaganda - he knew they were talking about Humberto Roque "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. "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 the age of 27, he was executed.
In the eyes of many, Versace has never received the recognition he earned.
But after a long campaign by supporters, he 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 earlier this year by Gen. Henry Shelton, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and forwarded to the secretary of defense.
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. "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.
"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. 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 Rowe, who escaped in 1968 after five years of captivity, made an impassioned plea to President Richard Nixon that Versace receive the Medal of Honor, describing how his resistance deflected punishment from other captives and stiffened their will to resist.
But the Army downgraded the award to a Silver Star.
The 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.
"The guys in the south really took tougher punishment than the guys in the north," said Stuart Rochester, a Department of Defense historian.
Versace volunteered for Vietnam in 1962, when there were no U.S. combat troops there, only a few thousand military advisers sent to help the South Vietnamese government fight communist insurgents.
Versace was assigned as an intelligence adviser in the Mekong Delta. He immersed himself in Vietnamese culture, creating dispensaries and procuring tin sheeting to replace thatch roofs. He wrote to schools in the United States and got soccer balls for village playgrounds.
Versace volunteered for a second one-year tour and then planned to leave the Army to enter the priesthood. He had been accepted into the Maryknoll Order and wanted to work with children in Vietnam.
In October 1963, two weeks before his tour was to end, he accompanied South Vietnamese troops on an operation. They were overwhelmed by a large enemy force. 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.
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 on his hands and knees. Guards discovered him crawling in the swamp and 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.
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.
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 his hometown of Alexandria, Va.
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?'"
Subject: Status report on Rocky Versace's MOH Date sent: Wed, 25 Jul 2001 22:01:41 -0400
As you may know, Rocky's MOH has been in bowels of the bureaucracy since February, 2000. It has been approved by the SecDefense, and all service heads and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. It is now on Capitol Hill for Congressional approval, and return to the White House for President Bush's signature.
We do not have a definite date from the White House for the ceremony date, but late October or hopefully for Veterans Day weekend. Otherwise, who knows. The family will request the maximum permitted number of people to attend the White House ceremony. A huge crowd is expected as Rocky was a member of the West Point class of 1959, and the Special Forces Command activity supported his MOH. If all of the expected people can't be accommodated at the White House, arrangements will be made for a reception at a local hotel ballroom. It will be a big blowout, and reunion of old soldiers, politicos, and assorted hangers-on.
EXCERPT OF REMARKS BY THE HONORABLE PAUL WOLFOWITZ, DEPUTY SECRETARY OF DEFENSE, MADE DURING HIS COMMENCEMENT ADDRESS AT THE UNITED STATES MILITARY ACADEMY AT WEST POINT, NEW YORK ON 2 JUNE 2001:
". . .Courage comes in all ranks - all shapes and stripes. Look to your left - look down the line to your right - you may well be seeing a hero; you may be looking at another Rocky Versace.
"After graduating from West Point in 1959, Rocky grew bored with stateside duty and volunteered for Vietnam where he served with enthusiasm and distinction. In October of 1963, just weeks shy of completing his second tour, he was captured by the Viet Cong.
"When Rocky was tortured and left for dead in a three-by-six foot cage - he sang "God Bless America." When he was dragged from village to village with a rope around his neck, he cursed his captors in English and French and Vietnamese. His will could not be broken.
" A fellow captive recalled that for Rocky, "as a West Point grad, it was duty, honor, country. There was no other way. He was brutally murdered because of it. He valued that one moment of honor more than he would have a lifetime of compromises."
"Rocky Versace exemplified honor and courage. Forty years after his death, his life, his determination, his patriotism, and his courage call out for recognition. If Congress agrees, we will answer that call and recommend to President Bush that Captain Rocky Versace, class of 1959, be awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor."
Associated Press Newswires Friday, January 4, 2002
Special Forces soldier gets posthumous medal
FORT BRAGG, N.C. (AP) - A Special Forces soldier who died more than 36 years ago in Viet Cong captivity has been awarded the nation's highest military award.
Legislation that authorized the Medal of Honor for the late Capt. Humbert R. "Rocky" Versace was signed Dec. 28 by President Bush. The medal was awarded for Versace's actions as a prisoner of war between Oct. 29, 1963, and his death on Sept. 26, 1965......
=========================== JUNE 3, 2002
For the last 3 1/2 years, I have headed up an effort to get the Captain Rocky Versace Plaza and Vietnam Veterans Memorial built in Alexandria. My group, "The Friends of Rocky Versace" has also been very active in the effort to have Rocky Versace awarded the Medal of Honor.
The Memorial will be dedicated at 10:30am on July 6, 2002. There will be a reception following at the Birchmere Dinner Theater which is close by.
Pete Dawkins, President of the West Point Class of 1959, will be the keynote speaker, and the US Army Band (Pershing's Own) will provide music for the event. The dedication will conclude with the unveiling of the bronze statue of Rocky Versace.
On Monday morning, July 8, there will be a ceremony at the White House. President Bush will present the Medal of Honor to the Versace family.
Mike Faber President, "The Friends of Rocky Versace" Honorary Member, West Point Class of 1959 ======================================== Oct 2013