Today’s #VeteranOfTheDay is Army Veteran Humbert Roque Versace, who served as a special forces advisor during the Vietnam War.
Humbert “Rocky” Versace was born in 1937 in Hawaii. As the son of an Army colonel, Versace was no stranger to the military as he moved frequently during his father’s service. Upon graduating high school, Versace followed his father’s footsteps and joined the military. He entered the U.S. Military Academy, graduating in 1959 as a second lieutenant in the armor branch.
Versace graduated from Ranger School and Airborne School in the same year. His first assignment took him to Korea, where he served as a platoon leader for an armor unit in the 1st Cavalry Division. When he returned to the U.S. in 1961, he served in the 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment, also known as “The Old Guard,” located in Fort Myer, Virginia. It was during this time that Versace volunteered to serve in the Vietnam War.
Before deploying to Vietnam, Versace completed an intelligence course in Fort Holabird, Maryland, and a course on the Vietnamese language at the Presidio of Monterey in California. He arrived in Vietnam in May 1962 and served as an intelligence advisor with the 5th Special Forces Group. A year later, Versace extended his tour by six months.
Near the end of his tour, Versace visited 1st Lt. James Rowe, an old classmate working in Tan Phu. In October 1963, Versace, Rowe and Sgt. Daniel Pitzer led a group of trained Vietnamese civilians to repel a contingent of Viet Cong forces near Le Coeur. When they found the village abandoned, they pursued the enemy into an ambush. They requested reinforcements, but it came too late. The enemy captured all three Americans.
Even though he became a prisoner of war (POW), Versace’s spirit never shattered. Thanks to his fluency in Vietnamese and French, he became a leader for other POWs. Often kept in isolation, Versace sang popular songs and left inspirational messages in the bathroom to raise the other POWs’ spirits. He also raised their morale through his resistance against torture, interrogation and starvation. When not beaten or isolated, Versace argued with his captors in Vietnamese and protested their treatment.
Over the course of his captivity, Versace attempted four escapes, and each time the enemy recaptured and beat him. In September 1965, after 23 months of defiance, the frustrated Viet Cong executed Versace. He was last seen singing “God Bless America” while being removed from the other POWs. His remains were never found or returned. Pitzer said, “He got a lot of pressure and torture, but he held his path. As a West Point grad, it was duty, honor, country. There was no other way. He was brutally murdered because of it.” Versace was 28 years old.
For his bravery displayed during his captivity, Versace received a Silver Star. It was not until 2002, 37 years after his death, that Versace posthumously received a Medal of Honor.
We honor his service.
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Writer: Raymond Lin
Editors: Annabelle Colton and Wilson S. Sainvil
Fact checker: Giacomo Ferrari
Graphic artist: Kiki Kelley