Thoughts on Character

“The test of character is not ‘hanging in’ when you expect light at the end of the tunnel, but performance of duty and persistence of example when you know no light is coming”

– James Stockdale, USN,  MOH.



Stockdale as a POW.  The man endured more than 2,700 consecutive days in the ‘Hanoi Hilton’, including protracted torture sessions that broke his legs. He is 42 in the picture.  Most people have a definition of ‘character’ , but perhaps they don’t count the same as Stockdale’s. He thought real character was revealed when a person is doomed, they know it, and yet they still have fidelity to their own ‘Moral Purpose’ , even if no one is there to witness them going down fighting. 


My Father and Stockdale were at the the U.S. Naval Academy at the same time. Their thinking and values were forged by the same intellectual machinery. Very few men who passed through the gates of Annapolis were tested as Stockdale was, and Dad would have been the first to tell you that certain men are made of harder material, and it did little good to try to comparatively measure them. All that mattered was the private internal question: When your ‘crowded hour’ comes, will your fidelity waiver? 


America has a weak national memory. It has a good side, we don’t carry on 500 year blood feuds like many parts of the world do, but we also don’t remember what we once had either, times when Character was paramount and celebrity was trivial. The fact that Stockdale was once a national political candidate to be the Vice President of our country, has long faded from awareness, even among people who claim to follow such things. In the seven election cycles since, we have been served an ever lower strata of options, until it came to the point we were asked to choose between a candidate who said the unthinkable, that POW’s like Stockdale were not heroes, and another candidate so corrupt, voting for the first became imaginable.


My own fidelity is to the ideals of America, not it’s actual execution. As I get older, the gulf between these two gets ever wider. In the land of my Ideals, all people are judged by ‘The Content of their Character”, and the measurement of that, is on a scale that would make sense to Stockdale….or my Father.


Dad has been gone more than 3 years now.  Most days I’m stoic about it, but late Sunday afternoons, I invariably think, three or four times, “I should call Dad.” Every once in a while, I’ll have a morning like today, where I sit in the office and read passages from books, selections that affirm that we really did revere men of character in this country once, a long time ago.


I understand, that such times, and my father, are never returning. Yet I will not allow my fidelity to the ideals of America waiver. I still conduct myself in a manner my father would find ethical, even if he will never know it, and almost no one in our nation appears to care of such things……and this, is my own small version of “performance of duty and persistence of example when you know no light is coming”




After thought:

‘Your Moral Purpose’


About William Wynne
I have been continuously building, testing and flying Corvair engines since 1989. Information, parts and components that we developed and tested are now flying on several hundred Corvair powered aircraft. I earned a Bachelor of Science in Professional Aeronautics and an A&P license from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, and have a proven 30 year track record of effectively teaching homebuilders how to create and fly their own Corvair powered planes. Much of this is chronicled at and in more than 50 magazine articles.

4 Responses to Thoughts on Character

  1. Dave Hoehn says:


  2. Ted Farwell says:

    This is why you have earned the respect of those who can understand such things. Ignore those who don’t seem to be able to comprehend. Life is too short and precious to waste effort on fools.

  3. Jimmy Young says:

    Your topics on character get to me in an uncomfortable way at first, because I realize how low I compare to men like Stockdale, your father, and mine. It takes only a few seconds of reflection for me to commit to being more like those men on a daily basis. My father, Sam L. Young, was a Japanese POW captured in the Philippines in spring of ’42. He was imprisoned at Bilibio & Cabanatuan, then transported to Japan & imprisoned at Fukuoka #17 until the A-bombs ended the war. We did not have the greatest of relationships, but I had such a great Dad. I didn’t even begin to understand him until I had been out on my own for a few years making a living and I began to study what all he went through. He was mentally the toughest human being I have ever known and I was so lucky to have him as my Dad.


    • Jimmy, thank you for sharing your fathers story. It took me a lot of my life to come to terms with the idea that I wasn’t made of the same material as my father, and I could never measure against men like him, but still be comfortable with being myself. In 2001 I got really badly burned dragging the pilot out of an airplane wreck. My parents got to the Tampa burn hospital the next day. Externaly I was intubated, could only see with one eye, could just move my left hand and was burned over 45% of my body. I was scared, but the secret that no one understood, that raised my spirit, was the thought that I might have just performed an act that would have at least registered on the scale that men like our fathers understood. I have told this to others, and they don’t ‘get it’ but I suspect you might understand this. Later, when I was well and clear headed, I came to understand that it was in my head, and that my father loved me and it was in no way contingent on being anything like him in toughness, he had been more proud of me for decent things I had done than for anything I thought was ‘character’.

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: