NEWPORT, R.I. -- The U.S. Naval War College dedicated a recently renovated conference room to the late retired Vice Adm. James Bond Stockdale, who as college president from 1977 to 1979 introduced a military ethics course informed by his seven years as a prisoner of war in Vietnam.
The conference room, across the hall from the president’s office, holds paintings, books, and photographs depicting Stockdale’s career, including the 1976 ceremony where he was awarded the Medal of Honor for his courage and leadership during captivity.
The room is another piece of evidence that Stockdale’s legacy carries on in Newport, said Rear Adm. Shoshana S. Chatfield, the 57th president of the Naval War College.
“It is hard to overstate just how much of an effect President Stockdale had and Admiral Stockdale had on the United States Navy and our ideas about moral foundations, ethical behavior, philosophy, and the profession of arms,” Chatfield said during the Dec. 4 ceremony.
“I know that my own personal moral compass has been shaped to a significant degree by the example set by James Bond Stockdale,” she said.
Stockdale’s eldest son, James B. Stockdale II, said that nothing would make his father more proud than to see his life’s work continuing.
“Dad would be positively honored, and he would be humbled. He was a realist, and when he left the War College, it was his earnest hope that his work might continue in some way,” Stockdale said, who attended the ceremony.
“He would be grateful that so many took his words to heart and made them a part of their professional and personal lives,” he said.
Affectionately called the “Stockdale course,” the Foundations of Moral Obligation class is still being taught 40 years after Stockdale’s departure. In fact, it is one of the college’s most popular elective courses.
Books on the shelves of the conference room include Stockdale’s own work, “Thoughts of a Philosophical Fighter Pilot,” and, with his wife, Sybil Stockdale, “In Love and War.” Also represented are books that Stockdale credited with influencing him – in particular the work of Greek thinker Epictetus, whose ideas about Stoicism helped Stockdale endure his torture in captivity.
The room also houses a plaster bust of Stockdale by sculptor Felix de Weldon, a Newport artist known for creating the iconic Marine Corps War Memorial in Virginia.
Large photographs depict important moments in Stockdale’s career. One shows Stockdale in the ready room of the aircraft carrier USS Oriskany (CV 34) before his plane was shot down during a mission over Vietnam.
There’s also a video of Stockdale discussing his captivity in a 2001 interview with the American Academy of Achievement.
Some of the items – such as a copy of the 1978 letter that Stockdale wrote to his first Foundations of Moral Obligation students – come from the collections of the college’s John B. Hattendorf Center for Maritime Historical Research and the Naval War College Museum.
Professor Emeritus John Hattendorf was a young professor at the college when Stockdale served as president. He remembers the war hero well.
“Everything about him came through his experience as a prisoner of war,” said Hattendorf, remembering the Medal of Honor citation that was on display at the Stockdale residence on campus. “There was a very strong ethical and moral foundation that he was trying to get across.”
College officials thanked the dozens of Navy employees who had a role in the renovation project. Carpenters and electricians from the facilities department did the majority of the labor, with help from Navy Seabees.
The graphics department provided the initial sketches for the renovation’s look and helped prepare photographs for display. The audiovisual staff designed the layout for the equipment used to play the Stockdale interview and a slideshow of historical photos.
Professor John E. Jackson, who started on the faculty in 1980, oversaw development of the Stockdale displays.
“I’d like to acknowledge the many people who worked diligently to make this room something that reflects the degree of respect and admiration that we have for Admiral Stockdale,” Jackson said.
“We truly treasure the relationship that has endured for decades between the college and the Stockdale family,” he said.