SAN DIEGO - Retired Vice Adm. James Stockdale, Ross Perot's 1992 presidential running mate who received the Medal of Honor after enduring 7 1/2 years in a North Vietnamese prison, died Tuesday. He was 81.
The Navy did not provide a cause of death but said he had suffered from Alzheimer's disease. He died at his home in Coronado.
In the 1992 presidential election, Stockdale became independent candidate Perot's vice presidential running mate, initially as a stand-in on the ticket but later as the candidate.
Stockdale gave a stumbling performance in the nationally televised vice-presidential debate against Dan Quayle and Al Gore and later said he didn't feel comfortable in the public eye.
"Who am I? Why am I here?" he asked rhetorically in his opening statement. Toward the end, he asked the moderator to repeat a question, saying, "I didn't have my hearing aid turned on."
During the Vietnam War, Stockdale was a Navy fighter pilot based on the USS Oriskany and flew 201 missions before he was shot down on Sept. 9, 1965. He became the highest-ranking naval officer captured during the war, the Navy said.
Stockdale was taken to Hoa Lo Prison, known as the "Hanoi Hilton." His shoulders were wrenched from their sockets, his leg had been shattered by angry villagers and a torturer, and his back was broken. But he refused to capitulate.
Rather than allow himself to be used in a propaganda film, Stockdale smashed his face into a pulp with a mahogany stool.
"My only hope was to disfigure myself," Stockdale wrote in his 1984 autobiography "In Love and War." The ploy worked, but he spent the next two years in leg irons.
After Ho Chi Minh's death, he broke a glass pane in an interrogation room and slashed his wrists until he passed out in his own blood. After that, captors relented in their harsh treatment of him and his fellow prisoners.
Stockdale spent four years in solitary confinement before his release in 1973.
He received 26 combat decorations, including the Medal of Honor, the nation's highest medal for valor, in 1976. The citation reads, "By his heroic action at great peril to himself, he earned the everlasting gratitude of his fellow prisoners and of his country."
He retired from the military in 1979, one of the most highly decorated officers in U.S. Navy history, and became president of the Citadel, a military college in South Carolina. He left in 1981 to become a senior research fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford.
Stockdale came to know Perot through Sybil Stockdale's work establishing an organization on behalf of families of prisoners held during the Vietnam War.
When Perot ran again in 1996 as the candidate of his Reform Party, Stockdale had rejoined the Republican Party.
He is survived by his wife and four sons.