- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 9, 2002

President Bush yesterday presented the Medal of Honor to the family of an Army prisoner of war who was executed by Vietnamese communists in 1965.

At a White House ceremony, Mr. Bush called the late Capt. Humbert Roque "Rocky" Versace a hero whose defiance of the enemy set an example for his fellow soldiers. Capt. Versace is the first Army POW to earn the Medal of Honor for actions taken during captivity in Southeast Asia.

"In his too-short life, he traveled to a distant land to bring the hope of freedom to the people he never met," Mr. Bush said. "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."

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. Capt. Versace was accompanying a South Vietnamese army unit that was overrun by a large enemy force. Capt. Versace and two other Americans were taken prisoner.

He was held captive in bamboo cages, 6 feet long, 2 feet wide and 3 feet high. After trying to escape four times, Capt. 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.

Capt. Versace spent nearly two years being tortured by the Viet Cong. Despite horrific treatment, he refused to give in to their interrogation and indoctrination efforts. "The last time his fellow prisoners heard his voice, he was singing 'God Bless America' at the top of his lungs," Mr. Bush said.

Capt. Versace was 27 when he was executed by his captors on Sept. 26, 1965. His remains were never found.

Since then, relatives, friends and former classmates from the U.S. Military Academy spent years pushing to get him the Medal of Honor. After dozens of letters and Freedom of Information Act requests to declassify POW records, word came from the White House last year that Capt. Versace would be awarded the medal.

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