The most enduring memory of Navy vs. The Citadel here Saturday will come shortly before the opening kickoff, when the leaders of each school -- two heroes bonded by immense suffering -- meet at midfield.

It will be an intensely personal moment, for Rear Adm. William P. Lawrence, superintendent of the Naval Academy, and Vice Adm. James Bond Stockdale (ret), Resident of The Citadel, as well as for anyone who tires to imagine the sort of hell they endured to live, to meet again, to command.

In truth, they were physically closed those years as POWS in North Vietnam, in the section of Hoa Lo prison they called Camp Las Vegas. But they rarely saw one another. They communicated frequently, although through a primitive set of taps on the walls of their cells because any spoken words between prisoners meant a beating.

"He was there 7 1/2 years," Lawrence said. "I was there about six (both were released within a month of each other in early 1973). We were near each other (in cells perhaps 50 yards apart) over 60 months, but we were face to face maybe a total of one month."

Both men prefer not to emphasize the torture, the daily humiliations. The once outward sign of the ordeal is Stockdale's inability to bend his left leg. But he says: "Those were some of the happiest days of my life."

"You'll never know the meaning of love until you come across some American humor after a long period of isolation," he said. "Imagine my predicament one cold November morning. It got cold in those clammy cell blocks. I'd been shot down for three months and hadn't been within earshot of an American voice.

"I'd been sick. I was crippled. I was on my feet, on crutches for the first time. I was pushing my rusty bucket down a dark passageway. It had been my toilet can the night before. I was scooting it along with my good leg. I was led to a cell with an improvised shower, an old rusty shower head on the back bulkhead over an open drain. The guard grunted, slammed the door and bolted it. The idea was for me to dump my bucket and take a shower.

"I was totally depressed until, in the dim light, under a nail hole in the concrete below the shower head, I was able to read some American's words etched in very small print: 'Smile, you are on Candid Cameria.'

"That made my whole month."

Lawrence arrived in June of 1967. Like Stockdale, his plane had been shot from under him during a bombing raid on North Vietnam. Risks were taken to whisper to Lawrence the fascinating form of communication within the camp: sign language, a series of taps on the stone walls based on a five-across, five-down matrix of the alphabet, with the k eliminated but used interchangeably with the c.

The messages were relayed throughout the cellblock. Many Americans have trouble relaying a simple sentence through direct word of mouth, let alone a rather complex set of first raps through a wall.

These Americans were unerring. And one of the earliest signals Lawrence sent echoing through those dark cells was to his friend Stockdale. They had met in 1956, when Stockdale was an instructor at test-pilot school and Lawrence was a student, and remained close.

"Just before the cruise (that led to the mission in which he was captured), I'd been at a social function with his wife, Sybil," Lawrence said. "I was able to bring him those personal accounts and also tell him of a promotion.

"We had a good flow of information throughout the camp, but there was a four-year-period (during the bombing halt) when there were no new POWS -- and thus no new information. So when new prisoners arrived they would sort of be responsible for telling about what they knew best: foreign affairs, sports, domestic political affairs.

"We established note drops.You'd go by some place and pick up a piece of toilet paper on which some recently arrived prisoner would have scribbled, with a stolen pencil, about our relations with Ethiopia, or Sonny Jurgensen's passing records.

"We were hungry for news. And we learned fascinating things about the mind. To keep our sanity, we had to keep productive. There could be no fantasizing. So certain hours were for physical activity, certain hours for history, certain hours for mathematics, certain hours to compose poetry.

"I relived my life in very minute detail about three times, from my earliest recollections. All my first-grade class; all my second-grade class and so on. And after that I'd relive all my recollections about history, complex math, poetry.

"It was a total review of everything I'd lived and learned."

Stockdale graduated from the academy the year Lawrence arrived as a plebe from Tennessee. Before he retired recently to accept his position at The Citadel, Stockdale had accumulated four silver stars, two purple hearts, the Congressional Medal of Honor, three honorary doctor of law degrees and three in humane letters.

His appointment this month broke a 157-year Citadel tradition of presidents with Army-oriented backgrounds.

Lawrence played three sports -- football, baseball and (his favorite) basketball -- at Navy and on Dec. 4 will receive the National Football Foundation and Hall of Fame's Gold Medal.

"I cannot say enough about the value of sports, how its discipline combined with the discipline of academics helped Stockdale and me," he said. "I used to jokingly say to other POWS when we were suffering in the intense tropical heat in Hanoi that this is almost as bad as August football practice back at the Naval Academy."

He is soft-spoken and immediately makes a visitor relaxed. He and Stockdale stay in touch perhaps twice each week now that their duties are so similar. The other day, Stockdale was at a loss for words momentarily when Lawrence said: "You know, one of the jobs of the superintendent is to send in the plays for the football team each game, so you'd better get snapping about that offense."

Saturday, Stockdale and The Citadel's regimental commander will walk down one side of the field and Lawrence and Navy's brigade commander will walk down the other. During the National Anthem, they will walk to the center of the field. Then Stockdale will toss the pregame coin.

"It's the school recognizing him as a special graduate coming back," Lawrence said. "But I've told him if his team wins we'll revoke his membership in the alumni association. And if they beat us too badly, the Navy'll cancel his retirement pay."