Humbert “Rocky” Versace epitomized the “Duty, Honor Country” credo of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. On October 29, 1963, during the early days of the U.S. involvement in Vietnam, Versace, a member of the 5th Special Forces Group, was captured by the Viet Cong. He refused to be indoctrinated by the Communists and resisted fiercely. He so enraged his captors by his insistence on adhering to the code of conduct and protesting their treatment of American POWs, that the Viet Cong executed him on September 26, 1965. He was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor.

Versace was the eldest of five children. He was born in Honolulu, Hawaii in 1937. His mother was an author and one of her novels was later turned into the television series, “The Flying Nun.” His father was a colonel in the U.S. Army. Like most military families, the Versace clan moved quite frequently and Rocky grew up in Alexandria, VA, right outside of Washington, D.C.

After graduation from high school in Norfolk, VA, Versace got an appointment to the U.S. Military Academy at West Point along with his father did. He graduated in 1959 as a second lieutenant in the Armor Branch. He went to Ranger School, Class 4-60, graduating on December 18, 1959. After attending airborne school, Versace was shipped to Korea where he was assigned to the 3rd Battalion, 40th Armor, 1st Cavalry Division as an M-48 tank platoon leader from March 1960 to April 1961.

After being promoted to captain, Versace was then assigned to the 3d U.S. Infantry (Old Guard), the Army’s ceremonial unit known as the “Escort to the President” that is based near Washington at Ft. Myer, VA. While in Virginia Versace volunteered for duty in Vietnam and was transferred to Ft. Holabird, MD for the intelligence course and then the Vietnamese Language Course at the Presidio of Monterey in California.

Versace began his career as an intelligence advisor serving with the 5th Special Forces Group in May 1962. At the end of his year-long tour in May 1963, he volunteered for a six-month extension. At the conclusion of that, Versace decided that he was going to join the seminary, become a Catholic priest, and return to Vietnam as a missionary.

With only two weeks remaining on his tour and the Army, Versace went to visit an old USMA classmate at the 5th Special Forces camp A-23 located at Tan Phu in the Mekong Delta. There, the Special Forces men were advising a Civilian Irregular Defense Group (CIDG) unit. The unit according to Colonel (then LT) Nick Rowe was trying to dislodge a 40-man Viet Cong platoon that was setting up a headquarters located in the thick U Minh Forest at the village of Le Coeur. Versace joined the men on the operation. The Viet Cong, however, were not 40 men but a 900-man regiment and ambushed the Montagnard/Special Forces patrol.

Dan Pitzer, an American Special Forces medic, was racing to the point of the ambush to help when he stepped into a hole and broke his ankle; the A-Team XO, LT Nick Rowe moved to assist him. Versace, although badly wounded, remained in place and put down enough covering fire to allow most of the CIDG troops to withdraw safely. However, as they ran out of ammunition, Rowe was clubbed from behind by a Viet Cong and he, Pitzer, and Versace were taken prisoner.  

1LT Nick Rowe prior to his capture in Vietnam.

The Viet Cong really had no idea what to do with American prisoners so they subjected them to brutal interrogations and horrible conditions at a small jungle prison camp located deep in the U Minh Forrest. In addition to physical torture and interrogations, they attempted to starve their American captives. Although he was very weak and wounded from the action at the ambush, Versace continued to display his absolute adherence to the Code of Conduct.