STAR-BULLETIN / JULY 1996
Pictured above is the Gallery of Heroes at the Hawaii Army Museum at Fort DeRussy. Capt. Humbert "Rocky" Versace will be the 21st Medal of Honor recipient with Hawaii ties to have his portrait hung in the museum.
DeRussy enshrines Vietnam POW
The Hawaii-born Army captain in 2002 won a posthumous Medal of Honor
CAPT. Humbert "Rocky" Versace, the first Army soldier to receive the Medal of Honor posthumously for his actions while being held as a captive of the Viet Cong during the Vietnam War, will be inducted next week into the U.S. Army Museum's Gallery of Heroes at Fort DeRussy.
Versace, a member of West Point's class of 1959, will be the 21st Medal of Honor recipient with Hawaii ties to have his portrait hung in the museum.
CAPT. HUMBERT "ROCKY" VERSACE
» July 2, 1937: Born at Schofield Barracks
» July 1955-June 1959: Cadet at U.S. Military Academy
» June 3, 1959: Commissioned 2nd lieutenant
» October-December 1959: U.S. Ranger School
» March 1960-April 1961: Assigned to 3rd Battalion, 40th Armor, in South Korea
>> May 12-Nov. 3, 1962: Intelligence adviser, Long Khanh Province, III Corps, Xuan Loc, South Vietnam
» Nov. 4, 1962-May 1963: Assistant intelligence adviser, 5th Infantry Division, III Corps, Bien Boa.
>> June-October 1963: Advisory Team 70, intelligence adviser, An Xuyen IV Corps Tactical Zone, South Vietnam
» Oct. 29, 1963: Captured by the Viet Cong
>> Sept. 26, 1965: Executed
» May 19, 1971: Awarded Silver Star posthumously
» July 8, 2002: Medal of Honor presented posthumously by President Bush
GALLERY OF HEROES
MEDAL OF HONOR
» World War II: 13
» Korea: 2
» Vietnam: 6
DISTINGUISHED SERVICE CROSS
» World War II: 25
» Korea: 17
» Vietnam: 5
The ceremony will begin at 1 p.m., Oct. 27, and will be the first Hawaii recognition for an Army officer who was born at Schofield Barracks.
The Waikiki ceremony also will be the highlight of a mini-regional class reunion for 60 members of Versace's West Point graduating class. The ceremony will be held almost 43 years to the day -- Oct. 29, 1963 -- that Versace was captured by the Viet Cong.
Seven members, including retired Lt. Col. Jack Bohman, from Versace's Cadet Company K, 2nd Regiment, at West Point, plan to attend the Fort DeRussy ceremony. The unit will be represented by retired Lt. Col. Philip Huntingdon, who served as K Company's commander during his senior year.
Bohman said that Versace is one of three members from West Point's class of 1959 whose remains were never recovered after the Vietnam War ended.
"Two of the missing are from my company," said Bohman, who was responsible for getting Versace into the Fort DeRussy's Gallery of Heroes.
Versace was 27 when he was executed by the Viet Cong in 1965 after being held in captivity for two years. A close group of friends and former Army buddies got Congress and the Pentagon to posthumously award Versace the nation's highest medal for valor in 2002.
It was presented to his brother, Steven, by President George Bush at a White House ceremony in July 8, 2002. Steven Versace will represent his family at the Oct. 27 ceremony.
Steven Versace, in a telephone interview, said his brother made several trips to the islands between 1959 and '62 to visit him.
"One of the times he came through Hawaii, we went to the gym at Schofield at 4 in the afternoon to play some one-on-one and HORSE," recalled Stephen Versace. "I though we were only going to play for an hour or so and then go to dinner.
"We played for four hours until he finally won a game. He absolutely wore me out ... and that's the way Rock was."
Howard Okada, who has worked for at least a decade trying to find service members with Hawaii ties to be honored at the gallery, recalled being approached by Bohman while playing golf two years ago at Barbers Point.
He learned that Versace fit one of the Gallery's three criteria: he was born here..
The other two criteria are entering the service from Hawaii or having lived here for at least 10 years. Versace lived here for two years while his father was stationed at Schofield Barracks.
Bohman, who moved to the islands in 1999, attended Versace's 2002 Medal of Honor ceremony and was later asked by another West Point graduate, who had visited the Army Museum in Waikiki, why Versace's portrait was missing.
Two years ago, a plaza was dedicated in Versace's honor in Alexandria, Va., where he attended high school. Six years ago Versace was inducted into the Ranger Hall of Fame at Fort Benning, Ga., and has been honored by the Special Forces and the Military Intelligence Hall of Fame.
There also is a Web site (www.mishalov.com/Versace.html) that lists Versace's accomplishments and the effort that went into getting him the Medal of Honor.
The Web site recalls that Versace was less than two weeks from leaving his second combat tour in Vietnam when he was captured. Versace had hoped to return to Vietnam as a Catholic priest after leaving the military.
A Green Beret, Versace was wounded and taken prisoner on Oct. 29, 1963, with two other soldiers. He was serving as an intelligence adviser for the Military Assistance Advisory Group, Detachment 52, in Ca Mau in the Mekong Delta.
For the next two years, the three Americans were imprisoned in bamboo cages 6 feet long, 2 feet wide and 3 feet high. Three times Versace tried to escape -- the first time on his stomach since he was unable to walk because of the bullet wounds. After he was recaptured, Versace was placed in leg irons, his wounds were left untreated and he was placed on a starvation diet of rice and salt.
Fluent in French and Vietnamese, Versace became a role model of resistance, always arguing with his captors. Former prisoners of war with Versace say the last time they heard his voice, he was singing "God Bless America."
Versace and a fellow POW were executed on Sept. 26, 1965. "Liberation Radio" said the two were executed in retaliation for the deaths of three terrorists in Da Nang.
Initially, he was awarded the Silver Star posthumously in 1971 because of the Army's resistance to approve the Medal of Honor for prisoners of war.
In his keynote address at the dedication of the Alexandria plaza, retired Brig. Gen. Pete Dawkins, a West Point classmate, said:
"You've heard the stories of his trademark defiance; unbreakable spirit; indomitable will and, at the end, the poignant, haunting image of Rocky's gentle voice, coming from an unseen bamboo cage in the jungle darkness, singing 'God Bless America.'
"For the rest of my life, wherever I may be, whenever I see a bamboo pole or a bamboo plant or listen to 'God Bless America,' I will think of this remarkable man, my friend Rocky."