Although we are always aware
that the Canteen is operating
in Cyberspace, we want the troops
and anyone who is on the receiving end
of prayers at the Canteen,
to know that these prayers are very real.
I hope the troops and Canteeners
alike, will view this Canteen Chapel,
as a place where you might go in times of
trouble, or times of joy, to be with your God.
"Come unto me all ye who are weary and burdened,
and I will give you rest." (Matt: 11:28).
We at the Canteen Salute Rocky Versace
He traveled to a distant land to fight to bring freedom.......
The highest award for valor in action against an enemy force which can be bestowed upon an individual serving in the Armed Services of the United States
Unlike the Air Force, Navy and Marines, the Army never before has awarded a Medal of Honor to a POW from Vietnam for heroism during captivity.
Versace's heroism spanned almost two years
"His is a story of a remarkable, unyielding spirit and an uncompromising fierce defiance -- the courage never to submit or yield," Shinseki said. "It is the story of a soldier who, in the worst of circumstances, demonstrated all that is best about our profession and our values. It is a story about a man subjected to the most relentless atrocities who persevered -- and in doing so, revealed an unwavering strength of character that inspired all who witnessed his triumph over his tormentors."....... Army Chief of Staff Gen. Eric K. Shinseki
An Alexandria native, Capt. Versace, 25, was a few days away from joining the priesthood when he was captured by Viet Cong guerrillas in October 1963 as he accompanied an operation near U Minh Forest.
Captain Versace remained optimistically defiant as a POW
Army Captain Rocky Versace spent 23 months as a prisoner of the Viet Cong. Being the ranking officer in the prison camp, Versace loudly and defiantly demanded humane treatment for his fellow captors. Captain Versace only had two more weeks of duty left before he could leave Vietnam but was among those caught in an ambush.
He was held captive in bamboo cages, 6 feet long, 2 feet wide and 3 feet high.
After trying to escape , Versace was shackled. He was kept flat on his back and often gagged in a tiny, dark isolation cage. The captors often paraded the prisoners around the villages, pulling them by a rope tied around their necks. Versace, his head swollen, his hair white and skin yellowed by jaundice, was pulled around villages.
Versace's defiance grew even as his condition worsened, infuriating his captors.
Versace's untreated leg became badly infected, but within three weeks he tried to escape, dragging himself on his hands and knees. Guards soon discovered him crawling in the swamp. Back in camp, they twisted his injured leg.
Three times, after receiving tips about Versace's whereabouts, U.S. advisers launched helicopters to rescue him, and three times they came back empty-handed, taking heavy casualties on one occasion.
His youth shows early signs of being the man be became.
Living with his grandmother and aunt, Versace spent his senior year at Catholic High while the rest of his family was stationed in Germany.
Strong-willed was the common way friends and loved ones described Versace.
Born on July 2, 1937, he was the oldest of five children. His father's career in the Army meant the family moved often. Versace filled the void left by his father's regular absences, his family said.
``He could pretty much drive anybody crazy,'' said Stephen Versace, a professor at the University of Maryland. ``There was no gray for Rocky and he lived that way. Right is right. Wrong is wrong.''
He attended Frankfurt American High School in Frankfurt, Germany, during the 1953-54 school year, a member of the class of 1955 though he actually graduated in 1955 from Norfolk Catholic High School
As the end of high school approached, Rocky Versace struggled with a choice: West Point or the priesthood.
He picked the Army.
The first call to rise at West Point came every morning at 5:45, said Gurr, who is now retired outside Charlottesville. Most of the cadets slid back toward their bunks after the first rise and shine.
Not Versace. He'd walk over toward the chapel.
``Into the cold, dark winter,'' Gurr remembered. ``And there he goes.''
At 6-foot-1 and 185 pounds, Versace excelled at sports, too, winning the intermural wrestling championship at West Point.
Capt. Humbert Roque "Rocky" Versace receives his 90-day combat infantry badge from his father, Col. Humbert Joseph Versace.
Versace's father, Humbert Versace, died brokenhearted within a few years of his son's death His mother, author Tere Versace, never stopped believing her son would emerge from the jungle.
"My mother, she never gave up," said one of Rocky's brothers, Dick Versace, president of the National Basketball Association's Vancouver Grizzlies. "Until she died, she thought he'd come walking out of those jungles any day."
After graduation, he went to Korea, then Vietnam in 1962 as a military adviser. He asked for and received a six-month extension of his Vietnam tour in the Mekong Delta.
Versace immersed himself in Vietnamese culture and the delta town of Camau. He created dispensaries, procured tin sheeting to replace thatch roofs and arranged for tons of bulgur wheat to feed family pigs, Price said. He wrote to schools in the United States and got soccer balls for village playgrounds.
``He was so eager to accomplish his mission of gathering intelligence that it was bound to get him into trouble sooner or later,'' retired Lt. Gen. Howard G. Crowell Jr., who bunked with Versace, told a historian preparing the Medal of Honor application.
In a 1962 Christmas letter to his family, Versace wrote from Vietnam: "I am convinced that your taxpayers' money is being put to a very worthy cause-that of freeing the Vietnamese people from an organized Communist threat aimed at the same nasty things all Communists want-at denying this country and its wonderful people a chance to better themselves.... Many among the poor and remote people are responding to a government that can and does help them and protect them. I have found villagers and ordinary soldiers and farmers to be wonderful people."
By 1963, Capt. Versace had had enough. Scheduled to return home, Versace planned to leave the Army and study to become a priest with the Maryknoll Order missionaries.
But Versace was captured on Oct. 29 by the Viet Cong, sustaining three bullets to one leg, shrapnel wounds and a blow to his head.
As the senior member of the imprisoned Americans, Versace insisted that his captors follow the Geneva Convention rules on humanitarian treatment, according to his fellow prisoners.
He sang popular American songs to lift morale. He berated his guards, who in turn shackled and gagged him.
``He wouldn't just say nothing,'' Gurr said. ``Rocky's nature was combative and stubborn. He would yell and curse. They were wrong, communism was wrong and he wasn't afraid to say so.''
Adding to the Viet Cong's ire, Gurr said, Versace rebuked them in French and Vietnamese. ``And he paid the price,'' Gurr said.
H e was kept hungry. His captors placed him in a tiger cage, its bamboo walls only 6 feet long, 2 feet wide and 3 feet high.
`Like a coffin,'' Gurr said.
For other prisoners, the guards thatched only the top to beat back the heat. For Versace, they covered the sides to turn up the temperature.
``He went from 185 pounds down to something over 100,'' Gurr said. John Gurr, one of his classmates from West Point and a member of the grass-roots Friends of Rocky Versace.
He attempted to escape three times. But in September 1965, North Vietnamese radio announced that he and another American prisoner had been executed in reply to the death of three terrorists in Da Nang.
The villagers stated that CPT Versace not only resisted the Viet Cong attempts to get him to admit war crimes and aggression, but would verbally and convincingly counter the VC assertions in a loud voice so that the villagers could hear. The local rice farmers were surprised at CPT Versace's strength of character and his unwavering commitment to his God and the United States.
CPT Versace's tenacious and heroic adherence to the Code of Conduct was in keeping with the absolutely highest standards of the United States Army and centuries of Ranger tradition. At no point from capture to execution, despite torture and isolation, did CPT Versace provide his captors with any information other than name, rank. Serial number and date of birth.
CPT Versace fought to protect his comrades until seriously wounded by BAR fire. He was about to literally sacrifice himself by attacking the Viet Cong with his remaining seven carbine rounds when wounded. In captivity he was willing to accept death rather than compromise the Ranger Creed, Code of Conduct, and the ideals of Duty, Honor, and Country. As senior American POW, CPT Versace deliberately forced his captors to focus their harsh treatment on him rather that the other American prisoners. His Ranger training, his unshakable belief in God and Country sustained him throughout his captivity until his death.
Villagers added that the worse he appeared physically, the more he smiled and talked about God and America.
His remains have never been found.
Artist Matt Hall specially commissioned for the Congressional Medal of Honor Society, depicting Captain Versace singing to while a POW.
President Bush Awards Posthumous Medal of Honor to Vietnam War Hero
CAPTAIN HUMBERT R. VERSACE
UNITED STATES ARMY
For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty:
Captain Humbert R. Versace distinguished himself by extraordinary heroism during the period of 29 October 1963 to 26 September 1965, while serving as S-2 Advisor, Military Assistance Advisory Group, Detachment 52, Ca Mau, Republic of Vietnam.
While accompanying a Civilian Irregular Defense Group patrol engaged in combat operations in Thoi Binh District, An Xuyen Province, Captain Versace and the patrol came under sudden and intense mortar, automatic weapons, and small arms fire from elements of a heavily armed enemy battalion.
As the battle raged, Captain Versace, although severely wounded in the knee and back by hostile fire, fought valiantly and continued to engage enemy targets. Weakened by his wounds and fatigued by the fierce firefight, Captain Versace stubbornly resisted capture by the over-powering Viet Cong force with the last full measure of his strength and ammunition.
Taken prisoner by the Viet Cong, he exemplified the tenets of the Code of Conduct from the time he entered into Prisoner of War status.
Captain Versace assumed command of his fellow American soldiers, scorned the enemy's exhaustive interrogation and indoctrination efforts, and made three unsuccessful attempts to escape, despite his weakened condition which was brought about by his wounds and the extreme privation and hardships he was forced to endure.
During his captivity, Captain Versace was segregated in an isolated prisoner of war cage, manacled in irons for prolonged periods of time, and placed on extremely reduced ration.
The enemy was unable to break his indomitable will, his faith in God, and his trust in the United States of America.
Captain Versace, an American fighting man who epitomized the principles of his country and the Code of Conduct, was executed by the Viet Cong on 26 September 1965.
Captain Versace's gallant actions in close contact with an enemy force and unyielding courage and bravery while a prisoner of war are in the highest traditions of the military service and reflect the utmost credit upon himself and the United States Army.
Good afternoon, and welcome to the White House. It's a -- this is a special occasion. I am honored to be a part of the gathering as we pay tribute to a true American patriot, and a hero, Captain Humbert "Rocky" Versace.
Nearly four decades ago, his courage and defiance while being held captive in Vietnam cost him his life. Today it is my great privilege to recognize his extraordinary sacrifices by awarding him the Medal of Honor.
I appreciate Secretary Anthony Principi, the Secretary from the Department of Veteran Affairs, for being here. Thank you for coming, Tony. I appreciate Senator George Allen and Congressman Jim Moran. I want to thank Paul Wolfowitz, the Deputy Secretary of Defense; and General Pete Pace, Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs; Army General Eric Shinseki -- thank you for coming, sir. I appreciate David Hicks being here. He's the Deputy Chief of Chaplains for the United States Army.
I want to thank the entire Versace family for coming -- three brothers and a lot of relatives. Brothers, Dick and Mike and Steve, who's up here on the stage with me today. I appreciate the classmates and friends and supporters of Rocky for coming. I also want to thank the previous Medal of Honor recipients who are here with us today. That would be Harvey Barnum and Brian Thacker and Roger Donlon. Thank you all for coming.
Rocky grew up in this area and attended Gonzaga College High School, right here in Washington, D.C. One of his fellow soldiers recalled that Rocky was the kind of person you only had to know a few weeks before you felt like you'd known him for years. Serving as an intelligence advisor in the Mekong Delta, he quickly befriended many of the local citizens. He had that kind of personality. During his time there he was accepted into the seminary, with an eye toward eventually returning to Vietnam to be able to work with orphans.
Rocky was also a soldier's soldier -- a West Point graduate, a Green Beret, who lived and breathed the code of duty and honor and country. One of Rocky's superiors said that the term "gung-ho" fit him perfectly.
Others remember his strong sense of moral purpose and unbending belief in his principles.
As his brother Steve once recalled, "If he thought he was right, he was a pain in the neck."
. "If he knew he was right, he was absolutely atrocious."
When Rocky completed his one-year tour of duty, he volunteered for another tour. And two weeks before his time was up, on October the 29th, 1963, he set out with several companies of South Vietnamese troops, planning to take out a Viet Cong command post. It was a daring mission, and an unusually dangerous one for someone so close to going home to volunteer for.
After some initial successes, a vastly larger Viet Kong force ambushed and overran Rocky's unit. Under siege and suffering from multiple bullet wounds, Rocky kept providing covering fire so that friendly forces could withdraw from the killing zone.
Eventually, he and two other Americans, Lieutenant Nick Rowe and Sergeant Dan Pitzer, were captured, bound and forced to walk barefoot to a prison camp deep within the jungle. For much of the next two years, their home would be bamboo cages, six feet long, two feet wide, and three feet high. They were given little to eat, and little protection against the elements. On nights when their netting was taken away, so many mosquitos would swarm their shackled feet it looked like they were wearing black socks.
The point was not merely to physically torture the prisoners, but also to persuade them to confess to phony crimes and use their confessions for propaganda. But Rocky's captors clearly had no idea who they were dealing with. Four times he tried to escape, the first time crawling on his stomach because his leg injuries prevented him from walking. He insisted on giving no more information than required by the Geneva Convention; and cited the treaty, chapter and verse, over and over again.
He was fluent in English, French and Vietnamese, and would tell his guards to go to hell in all three. Eventually the Viet Cong stopped using French and Vietnamese in their indoctrination sessions, because they didn't want the sentries or the villagers to listen to Rocky's effective rebuttals to their propaganda.
Rocky knew precisely what he was doing. By focusing his captors' anger on him, he made life a measure more tolerable for his fellow prisoners, who looked to him as a role model of principled resistance. Eventually the Viet Cong separated Rocky from the other prisoners. Yet even in separation, he continued to inspire them. The last time they heard his voice, he was singing "God Bless America" at the top of his lungs.
On September the 26th, 1965, Rocky's struggle ended his execution. In his too short life, he traveled to a distant land to bring the hope of freedom to the people he never met. In his defiance and later his death, he set an example of extraordinary dedication that changed the lives of his fellow soldiers who saw it firsthand. His story echoes across the years, reminding us of liberty's high price, and of the noble passion that caused one good man to pay that price in full.
Last Tuesday would have been Rocky's 65th birthday. So today, we award Rocky -- Rocky Versace -- the first Medal of Honor given to an Army POW for actions taken during captivity in Southeast Asia. We thank his family for so great a sacrifice. And we commit our country to always remember what Rocky gave -- to his fellow prisoners, to the people of Vietnam, and to the cause of freedom.
Steve Versace holds up the Medal of Honor that President George W. Bush presented to him on the behalf of his brother, Army Captain Humbert "Rocky" Versace, during a ceremony in the East Room, Monday, July 8. Executed in a POW camp in Vietnam, Captain Versace is the first serviceman awarded the medal for bravery as a prisoner of war.
The award citation credited Versace for scorning the enemy's exhaustive interrogation and indoctrination efforts despite isolation, privation, hardships and extremely reduced rations. "The enemy was unable to break his indomitable will, his faith in God and his trust in the United States of America," stated the citation.
During interrogation sessions, Versace stuck to giving just his name, rank, social security number and date of birth as required by the Geneva Convention, according to fellow prisoners. Often he would divert the enemy's inhumane treatment of fellow prisoners onto himself, they recalled.
From the Army reception at Fort Myers for the family, friends, and classmates of Rocky. The first photo is President Bush making remarks at the ceremony in the East Room of the White House.
Other Medal of Honor recipients who attended.
President Bush presenting the MOH to Rocky's eldest brother Stephen Versace.
Paul Wolfowicz Assistant Secretary of Defense speaking with Medal of Honor winner, Capt. Roger Donlon (retired).
Michael Haisley, Roger Donlon, and General Gurda (Army Special Forces)--Mr. Donlon is holding the Medal of Honor.
Rocky was active with orphanages in VietNam. He would hit up his fellow officers to help support their work.
He planned after his tour of duty (scheduled to end literally days after his capture) to enter the Catholic Maryknoll seminary to become a priest; he then planned to return to VietNam as a missionary.
Rocky's brothers (from left to right) Michael,Stephen, and Dick.
These are the two Vietnamese children who modeled in the making of the statue.
According to SFC Pitzer "Rocky walked his own path. All of us did but for that guy, duty, honor, country was a way of life. He was the finest example of an officer I have known. To him it was a matter of liberty or death, the big four and nothing more. There was no other way for him. Once, Rocky told our captors that as long as he was true to God and true to himself, what was waiting for him after this life was far better than anything that could happen now. So he told them that they might as well kill him then and there if the price of his life was getting more from him than name, rank, and serial number".
"Rocky was our friend. He was a soldier," retired Army Brig. Gen. Pete Dawkins, a West Point classmate of Versace's, said in the keynote address. "He was killed because honor, duty and country meant more to him than life."
......."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.".......