INTERVIEWER: It's June the fifth 1996 and I'm interviewing James Stockdale, Cold War program, Vietnam. Can we start off, Admiral Stockdale, by asking you to describe what you remember of the Tonkin Gulf incident, the first...

JAMES STOCKDALE: OK, there were three major actions and there were three accompanying air actions and I led all three of them, so the whole panoply is very clear in my minds, even after these years have passed. I was commanding officer of a supersonic fighter squadron, FA Crusaders. We had been out there the year before and this was my second cruise and it was my command cruise. the plane was capable of level supersonic flight, but we'd equipped it for air to ground too, which is a very versatile machine. Let me think about it.


JS: On the second day of August 1964, we were told in a briefing in the morning, an intelligence briefing, what a Desoto patrol was and I had never known, and it was an intelligence exercise that had been run for years in various parts of the globe and there was a destroyer now doing those Desoto patrols up the coast of North Vietnam, in international waters, with the purpose being to demonstrate our right to freedom of the seas and they also did some electronic eavesdropping and there was a third thing on that destroyer, it was a van that was welded to the deck that contained radios that were capable of intercepting North Vietnamese classified traffic and they had a crew of an officer and about ten marines and sailors, who were bi-lingual, Vietnamese and English. That was more or less for defense. That's all we knew. That afternoon there was to have been a kind of an easy Sunday afternoon exercise flight. I took the opportunity to take a new man that was in my squadron by the name of Hastings, I wanted to get up in the air with him and do some rocketry and some strafing, more or less as a one on one get acquainted flight. There were four planes in the flight, the Crusader flight, and we took off at two fifteen in the afternoon. Now, to get the perspective on this and I think you do want more than just what I saw, because you have to put it together, I'll tell you (unintelligible), but the night before, this Maddox had made its way up - I hadn't seen it yet, but I know that it had made its way up, about half way between the DMC and Haiphong, near an island named Hon Mi. They had started that patrol on the thirty first of July, they arrived in the area and were south of the DMC taking fuel, when they saw three speed boats coming down from the north and those were something that I shall describe if you're going to understand this picture. There are the thirty four Alpha, highly classified raiding boats, big speed boats like our more or less the size of our torpedo boats in World War Two, and these boats were coming back from a night shore bombardment of this Hon Mi island. There were four dead men in those boats, they had been attacked or there was a skirmish and a North Vietnamese swat tau boat, those were Chinese made armored gun boats that... medium sized guns, thirty seven millimeters guns and as this shore bombardment was going on, they managed to get shells aboard and brought casualties. It was a useful ship - I'm talking about the swat Taus - against the thirty four Alpha speed boats, but they couldn't keep up with them, so they had to be used while the bombardment was going on (unintelligible). So, as they approached this Hon Mi, those people were burned up up there, in the night - this is the night before I made this flight, this is the night, the first and second, the night of the first - they intercepted, they were getting crowded and they shut off a lighthouse, they knew the people on the beach were really on to them, but they had been dealing with two different things, the thirty four Alphas that had shot 'em up and this was the Desoto patrol, which was not going to shoot, they didn't know that. But these people in the special communications van came out with a message and gave it to Commodore Herrick, who was the senior officer aboard, and it was a notification without too many specifics that they were going to attack this ship. Now, that wasn't in the scenario at all, they were being crowded by these small boats that were getting near. There was something in the message about having packaged explosives on the bow that they could ram the destroyer with and so forth. He did the smart thing, he moved out to sea. In fact this wasn't going well at all and he recommended to the Seventh Fleet that they cancel the thing and he was over-ridden and the resumed. The next day, again, before I make my entrance, this destroyer went up... way up North as far as they could go in that part of the coastal area

INT: So this was the first time (inaudible)

JS: Yeah. That was a funny summer. I'd spent my life going on cruises. As we broke into the next day, there was a lot of speculation, a lot of exchange of officers that would be flown over by helicopter from other ships to our ship. What would they do, is there going to be a war? My squadron had spent the months of May and June on secret missions in Laos, escorting photo planes and sometimes bombarding targets, secret missions. The air was charged with anticipation. As the commanding officer of the squadron, I felt like war was inevitable. I mean, everything that happened seemed to point in the same direction. So we got pretty tired, I think all pilots have this feeling, we would be debriefed by chairborne intelligence officers and then they'd write up a summary of what we did and we'd read those things and, you know, they'd always get it wrong in some way. So I said to my four guys, I said, this is an important event, when we got Hastings back from the beach, he (unintelligible) flown out another one, we went in and closed the door in my state room and we composed a report of what really happened out there and that appears in our book. I'm glad we did that. And I put those papers - it was a composite report and each one made one - and I put those in my safe and spun the dial and twenty years later I wrote a book and put those in, I'm sure with their permission. But what I've told you is... very, very... carefully crafted reports we wrote. I didn't... that spent the day... Sunday the second... Monday I didn't fly, but Tuesday I flew early in the morning and we had to kee... what the real result of the spin-off in Washington of this first raid was that LBJ met on Sunday afternoon - there was a time difference here. We're out there in the Tonkin Gulf oscillating between being, you know, eleven hours ahead of Washington time and twelve ahead of Washington time, depending on whether we're keeping north or south of Vietnamese time. The south kept what we called daylight savings time and north did not. So at this point we're eleven hours ahead of Washington and I think that meant that attack went on about four o'clock, am, in Washington and that morning LBJ, who was locked into a presidential race against hawk, Barry Goldwater, obviously didn't want to try to out-hawk Goldwater and what he chose to do was to not to have a reprisal, but to warn North Vietnam that we'll assume that this was the action of a trigger happy local area commander, but let me tell you, he sent the message, I'm paraphrasing it, but if you ever do that again, stand by, we're going to come after you. There'll be reprisals. He started getting flack...