Stockdale happy to do a favor for his friend Retired admiral is 'a man of steel'

October 02, 1992|By Marc Gunther | Marc Gunther,Knight-Ridder News Service

WASHINGTON -- Jim Stockdale was doing the breakfast dishes one day in March when his old friend Ross Perot called to ask him a favor.

Could he list Admiral Stockdale as his vice-presidential candidate on petitions that needed to be filed in certain states? Admiral Stockdale would not have to campaign, and he would be replaced by someone else down the line.

Admiral Stockdale agreed on the spot, then returned to his woras a fellow at the Hoover Institute in Palo Alto, Calif., where he studies Greek philosophy. When a reporter asked what he would add to the ticket, he replied modestly: "I wondered about that. I don't know."

Yesterday retired Vice Adm. James Bond Stockdale, a 68-year-old decorated military hero, former university president, scholar and political outsider, became Mr. Perot's running mate in his reborn bid for the presidency.

Mr. Perot praised him yesterday as "a man of steel." Admiral Stockdale, in turn, described Mr. Perot as "a good man, a selfless man."

"It's my honor to be my old friend Ross Perot's running mate in this great effort to give the American people an independent way to go," Admiral Stockdale said. "I have a personal reputation for being independent in outlook and manner, so this role gives me added satisfaction."

In Admiral Stockdale, Mr. Perot picked not only a friend but a man much like himself.

Both are Naval Academy graduates. Both emerged as public figures during the Vietnam War. Both have been associated with the plight of prisoners of war. In fact, both men were celebrated in NBC-TV movies based on their real-life heroism.

The POW cause brought them together. Admiral Stockdale was held for eight years by the North Vietnamese, while Mr. Perot worked closely with Admiral Stockdale's wife, Sybil, to pressure the North Vietnamese to improve conditions for the POWs.

Admiral Stockdale had sent his wife secret messages that indicated to her that he had been tortured. He was the top-ranking naval officer held as a POW, and he received a Medal of Honor for his bravery. Once, he slit his wrists to avoid being exploited by the North Vietnamese for propaganda purposes.

"He was an inspirational leader. He was a real tower of strength," said retired Vice Adm. William P. Lawrence, who was also a prisoner in Hanoi.

The Stockdales' book about their experiences, called "In Love and War: The Story of a Family's Ordeal and Sacrifice During the Vietnam Years," was made into a 1987 NBC movie starring James Woods and Jane Alexander.

After the war, Admiral Stockdale returned to academic life, which, friends say, he has always enjoyed.

He graduated in 1946 from Annapolis, where his classmates included such future officials as President Jimmy Carter, CIA chief Stansfield Turner and Adm. William J. Crowe, the retired chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Admiral Stockdale earned a master's degree in 1962 from Stanford.

In the 1970s, he ran the Naval War College in Newport, R.I., where officers are trained. He spent the 1979-80 academic year as president of The Citadel, a military school in Charleston, S.C., before joining the staff at Hoover, a conservative think tank with ties to the Reagan administration.

Friends describe Admiral Stockdale, a Republican, as apolitical.

"I don't think he's a politician by nature," said Mr. Lawrence, who has known him for 35 years. "He doesn't have any consuming political ambition. I think he's doing this more for patriotic purposes."

John R. Bunzel, a friend and political scientist at Hoover, said Admiral Stockdale has spent more time thinking about basic philosophical and ethical issues than he has about government programs or policies. Admiral Stockdale has been writing a book about the Greek philosopher Epictetus.

"He's a Renaissance man, with a capital R, in a true sense of the term," Mr. Bunzel said. "He's steeped in a good deal of the traditions that go back to Plato and Aristotle."

Admiral Stockdale has given almost no interviews since being named as a stand-in vice presidential candidate.

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