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DECISION '92: SPECIAL VOTER'S GUIDE TO THE PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION : THE RUNNING MATES: : STOCKDALE: The war hero turned citizen politician is said to be a man of integrity, but not a student of public policy.


STANFORD — He is a war hero and a philosopher, a career Navy officer turned scholar, a retired vice admiral who won the Medal of Honor for his conduct while a prisoner of war in Vietnam.

Now, at the age of 68, James Bond Stockdale is trying a new career: citizen politician.

In his first campaign, Stockdale is running for vice president on an independent ticket with his good friend, billionaire Ross Perot. It's a change from his quiet philosophy research at the conservative Hoover Institution.

Just how different was evident in his performance at the vice presidential debate. Most of the time, Stockdale simply watched, appearing unable or unwilling to break into the discourse. Once, when asked to begin a discussion, he said he was "out of ammunition"; another time, he confessed he'd turned off his hearing aid.

But few candidates for political office have been tested in the way that Stockdale has. Glaring television lights, debates and reporters' questions are nothing compared to the 7 1/2 years he spent in a North Vietnamese prison, where he was repeatedly tortured for information.

His admirers say he has proved himself to be a leader who has the capacity to hold people together in a time of crisis, who knows the meaning of self-sacrifice and who has the inner strength to survive the toughest challenge.

"As I see politicians posturing, I say to myself, 'What has he done that I haven't done?' " Stockdale said in a recent interview. "Maybe I've done it just as well or maybe better in more trying circumstances. In other words, I think I would make a good vice president of the United States."

And if, by some chance, he should become President, what kind of leader would he be? His friends predict he would remain much as he is today: a modest man of high integrity who would have an instinctive sense of the right thing to do.

"If lightning struck, he would be quickly perceived as someone who was honest to a fault," said John Bunzel, a friend who is also a research fellow at the Hoover Institution. "He would recognize his weaknesses as well as his strengths. I think he would look to men and women of various political persuasions and would not be concerned with trying to please all of the various interest groups."

Unlike most career politicians, Stockdale does not spend his time studying public policy issues. He thrives on the ancient philosophers and is writing a book on the Greek Stoic, Epictetus.

"We're talking about a man who is not cast to be in this role, has absolutely no thirst for power," Bunzel added. "If this lightning were to strike, his whole life would be turned around. He would rather be writing about ethics and philosophy in his office upstairs."

Martin Anderson, another friend and Hoover fellow, said that if Stockdale became President, he would rely on a wide circle of advisers and lead the country in a steady, measured fashion.

"He would be a reasonable, competent President people would like," Anderson said. "He would deal with the problems one at a time, counsel with the best people he could find and come down with a decision (about which) most Americans would probably say, 'Hey, that's a reasonable thing to do.' "

A graduate of the Naval Academy at Annapolis, Stockdale spent 37 years in the Navy and, as a pilot, dropped the first American bombs on Vietnam. He was shot down on a bombing raid in 1965. His left leg was broken twice by his captors. Today he walks with a limp, unable to bend his knee.

The highest ranking naval officer in captivity, he was tortured 15 times as his captors interrogated him and tried to extract propaganda state ments. He quietly fought back by leading prison resistance, organizing coded communication among the prisoners and sending messages in invisible ink.

His torture sessions finally ended when he slashed his wrist with a piece of glass, demonstrating his willingness to die rather than give in to his captors.

Upon his release in 1973, he met Perot, who had led efforts to improve the treatment of prisoners of war. The two became close friends and developed what Stockdale calls a "special relationship."

Stockdale was promoted to admiral, spent a year at the Pentagon, then became head of the Naval War College. Upon his retirement in 1979, he became president of The Citadel, a state-supported military college in South Carolina, but quit after less than a year when school overseers resisted his effort to modernize the institution, including the elimination of hazing.

A lifelong Republican, Stockdale re-registered in May as nonpartisan. He describes himself as conservative but pragmatic.

Stockdale was first named as Perot's interim running mate in March and became his official vice presidential nominee only this month. The admiral's few campaign duties have consisted mainly of telling his life story to reporters.

"I haven't sat down and memorized a bunch of campaign slogans," Stockdale said. "He (Perot) has never told me to do anything. He has never made any demands or set any restrictions."

Some of Stockdale's friends say that by the end of the campaign, many voters will believe the order of the ticket should be reversed.

"My opinion is he adds distinction to the ticket," said W. Glenn Campbell, former director of the Hoover Institution. "I don't mean to denigrate Ross Perot in saying that. Stockdale is a magnificent person. He's a great patriot, a fine philosopher, a distinguished citizen."

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