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
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 2018.
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
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
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
August 28, 1999
Major General Kenneth R. Bowra, USA
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
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
"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
August 28, 1999
Major General Kenneth R. Bowra, USA
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
"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
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
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.
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
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
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
"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
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
"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
"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
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
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
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
"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
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
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
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
In 1971 Rowe's captivity experience Five Years to Freedom was
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
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
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
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
". . . 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
"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
What was different in the captivity experiences between Cook and Versace
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
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
CAPTAIN HUMBERT ROQUE VERSACE
UNITED STATES ARMY
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
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...
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
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
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
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.
President, "The Friends of Rocky Versace"
Honorary Member, West Point Class of 1959
https://www.warhistoryonline.com/vietnam-war/put-up-such-a-fight- in-captivity-viet-cong-executed-him-out-of-frustration-he-was-last- heard-singing-god-bless-america-he-was-later-awarded-the-medal-ofhonor.html
Department of Defense
On this Medal of Honor Monday, we're highlighting a soldier who volunteered to go to Vietnam, only to be captured 55 years ago today, then tortured ...