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Perot running mate Stockdale dies at 81

Naval officer received Medal of Honor for valor as POW

Vice Adm. James Stockdale
A portrait of Vice Adm. James Stockdale taken when he was president of the Naval War College.

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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Retired Vice Adm. James Stockdale, a former prisoner of war and Ross Perot's running mate for president in 1992, died Tuesday at 81, the Navy announced.

Stockdale received the Medal of Honor for resisting his North Vietnamese captors.

Stockdale, who had battled Alzheimer's disease for several years, died at his home in Coronado, California, a statement from the Navy Department said.

A political unknown, Stockdale became the butt of jokes after he opened the 1992 vice presidential debate by asking, "Who am I? Why am I here?"

"The questions were relevant in terms of the evening's purpose, which was to introduce myself and let the American people know where I was coming from," he wrote in 1995. "But I also chose them for their broader relevance to my life: I am a philosopher."

Stockdale said his study of the Roman Stoic philosopher Epictetus helped him endure more than seven years as a prisoner of war after his A-4 Skyhawk was shot down over North Vietnam.

He was awarded the Medal of Honor, the nation's highest military medal for valor, in 1976 for his efforts to organize fellow American prisoners to resist their guards.

Stockdale "deliberately inflicted a near-mortal wound to his person in order to convince his captors of his willingness to give up his life rather than capitulate," the Medal of Honor citation reads.

"He was subsequently discovered and revived by the North Vietnamese, who, convinced of his indomitable spirit, abated in their employment of excessive harassment and torture toward all of the prisoners of war."

Stockdale was born December 23, 1923, in Abingdon, Illinois, and graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy in 1947. He is survived by his wife, Sybil, and four sons.

Adm. Vern Clark, chief of naval operations, called Stockdale "a giant among heroes and a patriarch of ethical leadership."

"Admiral Stockdale challenged the human limits of moral courage, physical endurance and intellectual bravery, emerging victorious as a legendary beacon for all to follow," Clark said in a news release.

"Our thoughts and prayers are with Sybil, his devoted partner in love and life, and the rest of the Stockdale family."

Stockdale will be honored on July 16 at a memorial service on board the aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan in Coronado. He will be buried with full honors at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland, on July 23.

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