Former Alexandria servicemen and women as well as friends, fellow soldiers and family of Congressional Medal of Honor recipient Rocky Versace came to Mount Vernon Recreation Center Friday afternoon for a ceremony honoring Veterans Day.
Brig. Gen. J.W. Nicholson (ret.) shared several stories of Versace, an Army captain who lived for a time on Forest Street in Del Ray that was held prisoner in a Viet Cong war camp for 23 months before his execution in September 1965.
“I would like every American to hear the story of Capt. Rocky Versace because it instills patriotism,” said Nicholson, who was appointed secretary of the American Battle Monuments Commission by President George W. Bush in 2005.
While captured, Versace never cooperated with the Viet Cong. He ignored three bullet wounds in his left leg and adhered to the Military Code of Conduct, serving as an inspiration for others in the camp despite being held apart in a small bamboo cage.
Nicholson, who knew Versace and was part of several missions aimed at his rescue, spoke graphically of the torture and suffering Versace went through in the camp. He also spoke of Versace’s smile, strong religious beliefs and his brave defiance.
A fellow POW nominated Versace for the Congressional Medal of Honor in 1970, but it was not awarded until 2002.
It was also in 2002 that the Friends of Rocky Versace erected a $250,000 plaza in his honor in front of Mount Vernon Recreation Center, just a few steps from where he used to live.
Thursday’s ceremony also included the reading of the names of the 66 other Alexandrians killed or missing in Vietnam. Veterans and family members took turns reading the names. Councilman Frank Fannon also participated. The names are also etched above the benches that surround the statue of Versace in front of the building.
Veteran Kevin Rue, who served as emcee for the ceremony, said the Friends of Rocky Versace is still searching for pictures, citations and memories of the 67 heroes. The group, which continues to do outreach work with children who use the rec center and also coordinates upkeep of the plaza, doesn’t have photos for about half of the 67 men.