When Prisoners of War are left behind in enemy territory, it affects their families deeply. When the U.S. government didn’t step up to bring the POWs home from North Vietnamese Territory, their wives banded together to make it happen.
“League of Wives”
Historian Heath Hardage Lee wrote the book “The League of Wives” detailing how military wives fought to bring their husbands home. It all began when she caught a glimpse of a family friend Phyllis Galanti’s diary.
Sybil Stockdale was the leader of the group of women. They pressured the U.S. government to get their husbands out of Vietnam and back home to America.
“They have to fight not only the North Vietnamese Communists who are torturing their husbands but their own government, their own military institutions to get justice.”Heath Hardage Lee
Many well-known American figures like former presidential candidate John McCain and Adm. James Stockdale have talked in-depth about their experiences at the hands of the North Vietnamese. Conversations like these have brought like to what happened at the Hanoi Hilton and other places like it.
However, many people have not heard the stories of what happened in the background in the U.S. Lee’s book is a first-person account of the military wives. The stories cover everything from saying goodbye to their husbands to when they first heard that their husbands were stuck overseas.
Many of the women followed the advice of leaders in the Department of Defense, but soon that was not enough. Lee says many of the women stood up to the DOD when the Johnson administration would not admit that the Northern Vietnamese were torturing the men.
“By 1966, they [government] fully knew what was happening. And by 1967, Sybil [Stockdale] was sending coded letters to her husband, working with the Navy, and discovered they were all being tortured.”Lee
Policy Focused Politicians
Politicians were not focusing on what actually mattered, frustrating the military POW wives. In the end, they found an avenue that would listen to them, the media. Lee said that the women made an impact rallying public support.
One of the wives, Louise Mulligan said, “When you are fighting for something that is so precious, you’re willing to do almost anything.”
According to retired war correspondent Brad Willis, “The League’s efforts ultimately helped facilitate the release of 591 prisoners of war.”