I Honor my grandfather, the late Clarence L. French. ALthough he only spent a few years in active service for the Navy he spent the rest of his live devoted to the steel and shipbuilding indrusty engineering and improving the cost and process of producing ships for the Navy. his career as President of NASSCO (the west coast’s leading steel and shipbuilding company) he instituded many new policies and procedures that improved the industy creating a name for himself that was well respeted and honored, even to this day the people at NASSCO are honoring his service by dedicating a conference room with his memorabilia and accomplishments. He led the company as the eloquent honorable intelligent man that he was. I am priveledged to call him my grandfather and to have been raised and loved by him.
My grandfather’s career at NASSCO put many of today’s Navy ships in the water or kept them in the water. Not only did he run the company while a lot of these ships were in production but he continued to advise the military and government long after his “retirement”. He spoke before Ronald Reagan and shook his hand, he gave a speech in the presence of the Prince of England then the following evening while attending a different event heard the Prince quote his own speech from the night before. He has traveled the world dining with business men and their families from England, Japan, Greece, Thailand…. He has literally traveled the world for the company he devoted his life to. He may not have spent his life serving in the military in war or overseas, BUT he did dedicate many MANY years to improving and impacting the military forces through steel and ship building.
The second man I honor today is Vice Admiral James Bond Stockdale. I met him only a few times but he was a lifelong friend of my grandfather’s. He was one of the most highly decorated officers in the history of the United States Navy. While Commander of Carrier Air Wing 16 aboard the carrier USS Oriskany(CV-34), he was shot down over enemy territory on September 9, 1965. Stockdale was the highest-ranking naval officer held as a prisoner of war in Vietnam. He broke a bone in his back when he ejected and dislocated his knee upon landing in a small village. Stockdale was held as a prisoner of war in the Hoa Lo prison for the next seven years. Locked in leg irons in a bath stall, he was routinely tortured and beaten. When told by his captors that he was to be paraded in public, Stockdale slit his scalp with a razor to purposely disfigure himself so that his captors could not use him as propaganda. When they covered his head with a hat, he beat himself with a stool until his face was swollen beyond recognition. When Stockdale was discovered with information that could implicate his friends’ “black activities”, he slit his wrists so they could not torture him into confession.
He was awarded 26 personal combat decorations, including the Medal of Honor and four Silver Stars. Congressional Medal of Honor by President Ford in 1976. He was one of the most highly decorated officers in the history of the Navy, wearing 26 personal combat decorations including 2 Distinguished Flying Crosses, 3Distinguished Service Medals, 2 Purple Hearts, and 4 Silver Star Medals in addition to the Medal of Honor. He was the ONLY 3 Star Admiral in the hostory of the Navy to wear both aviator wings and the Medal of Honor.
Early in Stockdale’s captivity, his wife, Sybil Stockdale, organized The League of American Families of POWs and MIAs, with other wives of servicemen who were in similar circumstances. By 1968 she and her organization, which called for the President and the U.S. Congress to publicly acknowledge the mistreatment of the POWs (something that had never been done despite evidence of gross mistreatment), was getting the attention of the American press. Sybil Stockdale personally made these demands known at the Paris Peace Talks.
James Bond Stockdale lost a longtime battle with Alzheimers Disease July 5th of 2005, but not before completing a memoir of sorts with his wife called In Love and War. He was honored with a service on the USS Ronald Reagan following his death.
He was such a kind hearted, soft spoken gentleman who willingly allowed a geeky bumbly teenager interview him for speeches she wrote for her high school veterans day concerts. His wife was always such a strong courageous woman and also an inspiration to me. She raised her boys proudly while her husband and soulmate lay shackled in a Vietnam prison.
THANK YOU, thank you for allowing me to know both of you. Thank you for your service and THANK YOU for having the determination to do what you did for our Country.
Rest In Peace.