Monday, February 28, 2011
Hervey Stockman: Pilot Spent Years in 'Hanoi Hilton,' Flew Over Soviet Union
By Lloyd Jojola
Journal Staff Writer
Retired Air Force Col. Hervey Stockman downed enemy aircraft over Europe during World War II, piloted the first flight of the U-2 spy plane over the Soviet Union and for more than 2,000 days was held captive in Vietnam's infamous "Hanoi Hilton" after ejecting from his fighter aircraft.
Stockman, a Four Hills resident who ended his military career with the Air Force Test and Evaluation Center at Kirtland Air Force Base, died Tuesday, two days before his 89th birthday.
Mass for Stockman will be celebrated at 3 p.m. Wednesday at Our Lady of the Assumption Church on Lomas NE, west of Tennessee.
"The most fascinating thing to me about his career was how much it spanned — all the way from prop planes to the most advanced fighter planes," said Peter Stockman, his son. "He went from flying when he was 21 to flying when he was 45."
Hervey S. Stockman was born in New Jersey and attended Princeton University before enlisting in the Aviation Cadet Program of the Army Air Forces in 1942.
He flew P-51 Mustang fighters out of England, including interdiction and air-superiority over Normandy on D-Day, and was credited with destroying two enemy aircraft in aerial combat, according to his son and information appearing in a Central Intelligence Agency story on its website. He flew 68 combat missions before leaving active duty in 1945.
Stockman was recalled to Air Force active duty in the early 1950s, and his work include sampling radiation debris from nuclear tests in the Pacific.
Stockman also was tapped for the Cold War mission of air reconnaissance of the Soviet Union, the CIA said.
"Stockman was chosen to fly the very first flight over the Soviet Union," reads the CIA piece about Stockman and his role in the U-2 program. "On the Fourth of July in 1956, Stockman left Wiesbaden in West Germany and crossed the Soviet border near Grodno in Belarus. The flight continued over several bomber bases in central Belarus, then north to naval shipyards and bomber bases at Leningrad. Stockman concluded his flight by passing over military facilities in the Baltic States before returning to Germany."
The flight lasted eight hours and 45 minutes, during which Stockman was tracked by Soviet radar, and MiG fighters tried to intercept him. He went on to fly several more U-2 missions over the Soviet Union and the Middle East between 1956 and 1958, the CIA said.
"He didn't talk about it in any depth because it was secret for many, many years, and it only became public knowledge — the actual mission itself — 25 years later," Peter Stockman told the Journal.
Stockman would describe the mission as "very exciting," saying that the "CIA broke out in cheers when it happened," his son said.
The U-2 aircraft that Stockman flew is on display at the National Air & Space Museum in Washington, D.C.
After his U-2 work, Stockman returned to active duty with the Air Force, and during the 1960s started flying combat missions in Southeast Asia.
Stockman's F-4 Phantom plane collided with another U.S. fighter in June 1967 over North Vietnam, forcing him to eject. He was a prisoner of war for nearly six years, before being released during Operation Homecoming in 1973.
"I was released on March 4, 1973, to find I still had a loving wife," Stockman told the Journal in a 1999 interview. "That's the most important thing in my life."
Stockman during the 1999 interview said that like many of the POWs at the Hanoi Hilton, he spent many hours kneeling and other times with his arms tied behind his back. But he told the newspaper "he was reluctant to use the term 'torture, because all I can think of was how American POWs were treated by the Japanese in World War II — bamboo shoots under their fingernails, hanging by their thumbs.' "
"The wonderful thing about the prison experience was the behavior of Americans toward Americans — the mutual support for the guy in the next cell, the wonderful feeling of camaraderie," Stockman was quoted saying in the interview.
After Vietnam, Stockman attended the Air War College at Maxwell Air Force Base in Alabama. He graduated in 1974 and went on to serve with NATO in Europe and as Director of Joint Test and Evaluation at Kirtland Air Force Base, according to the CIA biographical information. He retired from the Air Force with the rank of colonel in December 1978.
Stockman was the recipient of numerous awards and citations. Among them, he was awarded the Silver Star, Legion of Merit and Distinguished Flying Cross medals — each of them twice. He also received the Prisoner of War Medal.
Stockman, after the Second World War and before he returned to the military, attended the Pratt Institute art and design school and majored in industrial engineering. He worked for General Motors as a designer in the Cadillac division after graduating.
"He had an artistic flair in his family and he was very good," Peter Stockman said. "He could draw with airbrushes beautiful cars. ... He was a great artist."
Stockman's wife of 64 years, Sally, died in 2008.
His other survivors include two brothers, Henry of Locust Valley, N.Y., and John of Morristown, N.J.; sister, Pamela Proctor of Rowayton, Conn., son, Hervey Jr. and daughter-in-law, Dyson, of Delray Beach, Fla., and Baltimore, Md.; and grandchildren, Allison, Robert and Charles.