What does it take to break a person? How much pain and humiliation can one endure before confessing to a false crime or giving up the names of their friends? No one can know for sure what their breaking point might be, but one man provided a perfect example of what it takes to stay unbroken.
Humbert Roque “Rocky” Versace was an intelligence officer working with South Vietnamese Civilian Irregular Defense Forces in the Mekong Delta. Captain Versace was one of the first advisors to serve in Vietnam, and with his retirement only weeks away, he planned to join the priesthood and return to Vietnam to work with orphans there. In October, 1963, with less than two weeks before the end of his tour, Captain Versace and two of his fellow officers were captured by the Vietcong and taken to a prison deep in the jungle. As ranking officer, Versace took command. Using his Vietnamese language skills he demanded that his captors observe the Geneva Convention and provide humane treatment to him and his fellow officers. The Vietcong considered him a trouble maker and put him in a bamboo isolation cage six feet long, two feet wide, and three feet high. According to his fellow officers, Versace “…was kept in irons, flat on his back, it was dark and hot [from thatch on the roof and outside bamboo walls], and they only let him out to use that latrine and to eat. What they were trying to do was to break him. They even offered better food and to let him out if he would cooperate, but he would not. They wanted to get him to quit arguing with them and accept their propaganda.”
Versace sang songs as loud as he could to lift his comrades’ spirits. The Cong responded by gagging and isolating him. When allowed to use the latrine, Versace left notes of encouragement there for his comrades. When he attempted to escape, Versace was put on a diet of rice and salt.
Vietnamese villagers reported that Versace was paraded through the hamlets with a rope around his neck, hands tied, bare footed, head swollen and yellow, with hair turned white. The villagers stated that he not only resisted the Viet Cong attempts to get him to admit war crimes and aggression, but also loudly counter their assertions so that the villagers could hear. The local rice farmers were surprised at Versace’s strength of character.
After nearly two years, the Cong gave up their attempts to break Captain Versace, and they executed him. Versace was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor in 2002.