by Tom Billups, C.S.C.S.
As this column will be posted on Memorial Day weekend, I would ask the rugbyrugby.com readers to allow me to vector away from technical rugby matters for a moment. I want to introduce to you a man who I truly admire.
This upcoming national holiday, I will take time to say a quiet prayer for Army Captain Humbert “Rocky” Versace who passed way nearly 44 years ago. Two weeks before the end of Captain Versace’s second tour in Viet Nam, he was wounded by three rounds to his legs and subsequently captured near the U Minh Forest by the Viet Cong. There is more to this young captain’s story than can be covered here, but I will attempt to summarize some of Rocky’s character and why he was posthumously awarded our nation’s highest military award, the Medal of Honor.
Upon his capture, Versace was immediately stripped of his eyeglasses, rendering him virtually blind due to his poor eyesight. Rocky was held in captivity for 23 months during which time his fellow prisoners witnessed his ongoing torture because of his dogged efforts to resist. Captain Versace was subject to treatment no human being should ever have to experience, but they could not break his American spirit.
He was bound, shackled and housed in a bamboo “isolation box” due to his unwavering efforts against the Viet Cong. His captors offered him the promise of better food and water if he would only “ quit arguing and accept their propaganda.” The local villagers were inspired by his constant defiance; especially as he was paraded around, head swollen, skin yellow from jaundice and hair that had turned snow white from all the mistreatment his had suffered.
I humbly encourage everyone to remember men like Captain Versace this Memorial Day weekend.
Perhaps President Bush best said it almost seven years ago during the presentation of the Medal of Honor in the East Room of the White House.
”Rocky's captors clearly had no idea who they were dealing with. Four times he tried to escape, the first time crawling on his stomach because his leg injuries prevented him from walking. He insisted on giving no more information than required by the Geneva Convention; and cited the treaty, chapter and verse, over and over again.”
“He was fluent in English, French and Vietnamese, and would tell his guards to go to hell in all three. Eventually the Viet Cong stopped using French and Vietnamese in their indoctrination sessions, because they didn't want the sentries or the villagers to listen to Rocky's effective rebuttals to their propaganda. Rocky knew precisely what he was doing. By focusing his captors' anger on him, he made life a measure more tolerable for his fellow prisoners, who looked to him as a role model of principled resistance.”
And President Bush went on to state, “Eventually the Viet Cong separated Rocky from the other prisoners. Yet even in separation, he continued to inspire them. The last time they heard his voice, he was singing "God Bless America" at the top of his lungs.
“On September the 26th, 1965, Rocky's struggle ended with his execution. In his too short life, he traveled to a distant land to bring the hope of freedom to the people he never met. In his defiance and later his death, he set an example of extraordinary dedication that changed the lives of his fellow soldiers who saw it firsthand. His story echoes across the years, reminding us of liberty's high price, and of the noble passion that caused one good man to pay that price in full.”
Saying a simple thank you to these men (and women) who have served and those who currently serve our country, doesn’t seem like enough. I encourage everyone to take a moment during this Memorial Day weekend to think of young men like Captain Rocky Versace, and reflect on the sacrifices they have made for all of us.
I certainly will.
Tom Billups began his rugby career in 1984 and has spent time as a player in New Zealand (Bay of Plenty), the U.S. (The Old Blues), England (London Harlequins), and Wales (Pontypridd) for domestic teams as well as representing the U.S.A. at international tournaments with the Eagles. After hanging up his boots, Billups got into coaching leading the Eagles and now with University of California – Berkeley. Read the entire bio of Tom Billups as well as Billups first column My Rugby Path and then check out what Billups is saying about the game of rugby in The Billups Column on Rugby Rugby.
Gilbert has released a new line of rugby cleats. The Gilbert Virtuo 8S is part of the exciting new product. Check it out.
The entire All Blacks apparel line has been updated for 2013/14. Check out the New Zealand All Blacks polo.
The Nike Tiempo is a solid rugby cleat and one of few styles still made from full-grain natural leather.
The Gilbert Blitz 8S rugby cleat is a great cleat at a great price of $69.99. Get a new pair of cleats today.
A cool looking all black rugby cleat with the high performance adidas is known for. Get in the Gear!
Wear the crest of the British and Irish Lions on your t-shirt. A great look for the summer.
The All Blacks Performance t-shirt is black with hints of blue from the training jersey. Very Cool.
The New Zealand All Blacks training jersey for 2013/14. Get in the Gear!
The USA Rugby Pro Alternate rugby jersey is perfect for any fan of the Eagles. Get yours to wear during the summer Test matches.
The NEW All Blacks 2013/14 jersey has arrived at World Rugby Shop. Dare to wear the colors of the All Blacks.