At 1 pm on November 11, the Friends of Rocky Versace will host the 18th annual Alexandria Veteran’s Day Ceremony inside the Mount Vernon Rec Center. The names of all 67 Vietnam War Fallen Heroes honored at the memorial will be read. The Rec Center is located at 2701 Commonwealth Avenue, Alexandria 222305.
By Kelly MacConomy
ALEXANDRIA, VA – Voters heading to the polls routinely pass it by on Election Day. People may give it a casual glance when entering the Mount Vernon Recreation Center. On any day, children can skip across the gold-starred plaza or enjoy a game of tag around the bronze sculpture, an homage to one of Alexandria’s most-decorated heroes: Captain Humbert Roque “Rocky” Versace.
Captain Versace was a 1959 graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point who first served in Korea, then in Vietnam. He was captured by the Viet Cong in 1963, just two weeks before he would have shipped home. Rocky was held captive for two years, then executed in 1965.
The statue depicts him playing ball with two Vietnamese children. Rocky Versace was of Italian/Puerto Rican descent and a devout Catholic, and in captivity was fiercely defiant—able to tell his captors “where to go” in three languages, (Vietnamese , French, and English)—but he had an endearing way of engaging village children.
The sculpture by artist Antonio Tobias Mendez, on the Captain Rocky Versace Plaza and Vietnam Veterans’ Memorial Plaza is dedicated to all 67 Alexandrians who were killed or are still MIA from the Vietnam conflict.
Rocky Versace’s courage and valor has been acknowledged in many ways. He was awarded the Purple Heart, the Prisoner of War Medal, the Combat Infantryman Badge, the POW Medal, the National Defense Service Medal, the Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal, the Vietnam Service Medal, and the Vietnam Campaign Medal.
And finally, on July 8, 2002, Captain Versace was posthumously awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor, the United States of America’s highest military decoration, by President George W. Bush. The nonprofit organization Friends of Rocky Versace advocated for this great honor based on Rocky’s heroism, valor, and dedication above and beyond the call of duty.
This was the first time that America’s highest honor was bestowed upon a POW for his courage in the face of the cruel adversity, the abject humiliation, starvation, and isolation he endured in captivity. Rocky Versace suffered unrelenting hardships in his captors’ attempts to break his indomitable spirit. But the West Point Green Beret, Army Ranger, and Special Forces warrior remained steadfastly unbroken.
After completing military service, Rocky Versace had planned to enter the seminary. He hoped to become a Roman Catholic priest, return to Vietnam, and serve the needy people of the land that held him captive.
On this past September 20, National POW/MIA Recognition Day, Friends of Rocky Versace celebrated his memory by hosting a screening of the award-winning documentary The 2 Sides Project, by Alexandria’s Istrico Productions.
Col. Kevin Rue, (Ret.) USA and USMA, who spearheads the memorial foundation, and Jack Bohman, Lt. Col. (Ret.) and USMA Class of 1959, shared their memories of Rocky and their passion for the Friends of Rocky Versace. For them, the memorial is both emblematic of Rocky’s spirit and a labor of love and honor.
The 2 Sides Project explores the journey of six adult U.S. Gold Star children as they travel to Vietnam in search of the exact places where their fathers died and their encounters with their Vietnamese counterparts.
Istrico’s Director of Photography/Animator Jared Groneman and Editor/Creative Director/screenwriter Nora Kubach represented the production team at the screening. The 2 Sides Project is available through PBS.org and will be featured at the Sedona Film Festival in Arizona on Veterans Day. Six of the original Gold Star subjects plan to attend.
Following screening, Friends of Rocky Versace presented the Alexandria City Department of Recreation, Parks, and Cultural Activities with a check in the amount of $16,714 to go toward $18,000, the amount needed to maintain and refurbish the Rocky Versace Memorial Plaza and Statue.
This month when you head for the polls or drop your kids off for an activity at the Mount Vernon Rec Center, stop for a moment to honor a man who represented the highest caliber of the military code: duty, honor, country. An inscription encircling the base of the statue conveys the haltingly articulated memories of writer Marie Teresa Rios, Rocky’s mother: “He often did…does. His eyes are…were brown.” It’s a moving memorial to one great and beloved man, and to more than a few good men. Duty, honor, country.
Volunteers are needed to read the names of the memorialized and to hand out lapel pins, as well as to help set up and break down following the event. For information about the event or to make a donation contact Kevin Rue at 703-931-3721 or via email at [email protected]. You may also go to GiveGab.com and select the Friends of Rocky Versace.