Profiles of Valor: Humbert Roque Versace
“The enemy was unable to break his indomitable will, his faith in God, and his trust in the United States of America.”
Roque “Rocky” Versace was the oldest of five children to parents of Puerto Rican and Italian heritage. His mother was Marie Teresa Ríos and his father was Army Col. Joseph Versace. His mom authored several books, including The Fifteenth Pelican, which was the basis for the TV series “The Flying Nun.”
He grew up in Alexandria and Norfolk, Virginia, and, like his father before him, attended the United States Military Academy at West Point, graduating in 1959. 2LT Versace earned his Ranger Tab as a member of Class 4–60, attended Airborne School, and then served with 3rd Battalion, 40th Armor, 1st Cavalry Division in the Republic of Korea as an M-48 tank platoon leader until April 1961. In May 1962, then Captain Versace began his first tour in Vietnam with the Staff Advisory Branch of the 5th Infantry Division, serving as an intelligence advisor. He volunteered for a six-month extension in May 1963.
He was looking forward to returning home, planning to attend Catholic seminary and returning as a missionary to help with orphans. On October 29, 1963, just two weeks before the end of his tour, CPT Versace went on a mission with a USMA friend with 5th Special Forces Group in the Mekong Delta. Soon after entering the jungle, his unit was ambushed and overrun by the communist Viet Cong Main Force battalion operating in that region. Though severely wounded, he was able to provide enough cover fire so that his Vietnamese defense force personnel were able to evacuate the kill zone, but he and two other injured Americans whom he had been protecting, LT Nick Rowe and SGT Dan Pitzer, were captured by the VC and taken to a makeshift POW camp.
According to his fellow American prisoners, he attempted to escape multiple times, only to be caught and tortured repeatedly. He demonstrated strict adherence to the Army Code of Conduct for POWs and used his Vietnamese language skills to vigorously protest improper treatment of other prisoners. For that reason, he was separated from the other Americans. The last time his fellow Americans had contact with him, they could hear him singing “God Bless America” at the top of his voice from his tiny bamboo isolation cage.
Unable to break his will, the North Vietnamese executed Rocky on September 26, 1965. His remains were never recovered. Despite efforts by the Army and his parents to obtain more information about Rocky, there was none forthcoming.
In 1969, the nomination process for a Medal of Honor was begun — in this case to upgrade his Silver Star. Once officials made the necessary clarifications on his record in the field the day he was captured, and of his repeated defiance to his captors as a POW, his nomination was approved by the Department of Defense.
Accordingly, his citation reads:
Captain Humbert R. Versace distinguished himself by extraordinary heroism during the period of 29 October 1963 to 26 September 1965 while serving as an S-2 Adviser, Military Assistance Advisory Group, Detachment 52, Ca Mau, Republic of Vietnam. While accompanying a Civilian Irregular Defense Group patrol engaged in combat operations in Thoi Binh District, An Xuyen Province, Captain Versace and the patrol came under sudden and intense mortar, automatic weapons, and small arms fire from elements of a heavily armed enemy battalion. As the battle raged, Captain Versace, although severely wounded in the knee and back by hostile fire, fought valiantly and continued to engaged enemy targets. Weakened by his wounds and fatigued by the fierce firefight, Captain Versace stubbornly resisted capture by the over-powering Viet Cong force with the last full measure of his strength and ammunition. Taken prisoner by the Viet Cong, he exemplified the tenets of the Code of Conduct from the time he entered into Prisoner of War status. Captain Versace assumed command of his fellow American soldiers, scorned the enemy’s exhaustive interrogation and indoctrination efforts, and made three unsuccessful attempts to escape, despite his weakened condition which was brought about by his wounds and the extreme privation and hardships he was forced to endure. During his captivity, Captain Versace was segregated in an isolated prisoner of war cage, manacled in irons for prolonged periods of time, and placed on extremely reduced ration.
His citation concludes:
The enemy was unable to break his indomitable will, his faith in God, and his trust in the United States of America. Captain Versace, an American fighting man who epitomized the principles of his country and the Code of Conduct, was executed by the Viet Cong on 26 September 1965. Captain Versace’s gallant actions in close contact with an enemy force and unyielding courage and bravery while a prisoner of war are in the highest traditions of the military service and reflect the utmost credit upon himself and the United States Army.
Semper Vigilans Fortis Paratus et Fidelis
Pro Deo et Libertate — 1776
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