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President awards Medal of Honor to Green Beret

Tuesday, July 9, 2002

WASHINGTON -- President Bush presented a posthumous Medal of Honor Monday to Army Capt. Rocky Versace, a Green Beret who defied his Viet Cong captors and was executed in 1965.

"He was fluent in English, French and Vietnamese and would tell his guards to go to hell in all three," Bush told a group of about 200 in the East Room of the White House. The audience included Versace's friends and family members, including three brothers.

The president gave the framed medal to the captain's brother Steve, who was applauded as he held it over his head and turned slowly to display it to the crowd.

Versace would have been 65 last Tuesday. He grew up in Alexandria, Va., and went to high school in Washington, White House officials said. He graduated from West Point and served as an intelligence adviser in the Mekong Delta.

In October 1963, two weeks before his tour in Vietnam was to end, Versace set out with several companies of South Vietnamese troops in a planned attack on a Viet Cong command post.

They were ambushed by a much larger Viet Cong force. Versace was wounded, but kept providing cover fire so the troops with him could withdraw.

Versace and two other officers were captured and marched to a prison camp in the jungle. Given little to eat and held in mosquito-ridden conditions, he tried to escape four times and refused to cooperate with his captors. Eventually he was separated from the other prisoners, Bush said.

"The last time they heard his voice, he was singing 'God Bless America' at the top of his lungs," Bush said.

Versace was executed Sept. 26, 1965. "Today we award Rocky Versace the first Medal of Honor given to an Army POW for actions taken during captivity in Southeast Asia," Bush said.

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