"With astonishing verve, The League of Wives persisted to speak truth to power to bring their POW/MIA husbands home from Vietnam. And with astonishing verve, Heath Hardage Lee has chronicled their little-known story — a profile of courage that spotlights 1960s-era military wives who forge secret codes with bravery, chutzpah and style. Honestly, I couldn’t put it down."
— Beth Macy, author of Dopesick and Factory Man
"Exhilarating and inspiring."
— Elaine Showalter, Washington Post
The true story of the fierce band of women who battled Washington—and Hanoi—to bring their husbands home from the jungles of Vietnam.
On February 12, 1973, one hundred and sixteen men who, just six years earlier, had been high flying Navy and Air Force pilots, shuffled, limped, or were carried off a huge military transport plane at Clark Air Base in the Philippines. These American servicemen had endured years of brutal torture, kept shackled and starving in solitary confinement, in rat-infested, mosquito-laden prisons, the worst of which was The Hanoi Hilton.
Months later, the first Vietnam POWs to return home would learn that their rescuers were their wives, a group of women that included Jane Denton, Sybil Stockdale, Louise Mulligan, Andrea Rander, Phyllis Galanti, and Helene Knapp. These women, who formed The National League of Families, would never have called themselves “feminists,” but they had become the POW and MIAs most fervent advocates, going to extraordinary lengths to facilitate their husbands’ freedom—and to account for missing military men—by relentlessly lobbying government leaders, conducting a savvy media campaign, conducting covert meetings with antiwar activists, and most astonishingly, helping to code secret letters to their imprisoned husbands.
In a page-turning work of narrative non-fiction, Heath Hardage Lee tells the story of these remarkable women for the first time. The League of Wives is certain to be on everyone’s must-read list.
This inspirational work by curator-historian Lee (Winnie Davis: Daughter of the Lost Cause) tells of Vietnam-era military wives who were "expected to sit down, shut up, keep a low profile," but instead worked tirelessly to help their POW husbands. From 1965 to 1973, hundreds of American military pilots were shot down over southeast Asia and became prisoners of war. Despite being told by the government to wait for negotiations to proceed, POW wives Jane Denton and Sybil Stockdale formed a powerful partnership; it grew from home-hosted support groups to the establishment of the formal advocacy organization the National League of Families. They're among a larger cast of military wives and POW/MIA advocates who relentlessly lobbied politicians, conducted local and national meetings, embarked on diplomatic missions to North Vietnamese embassies in Europe, and launched savvy media campaigns. The Johnson administration wanted to keep the POWs' torture and mistreatment a secret, the State Department considered the wives a nuisance, and Congress was "oblivious to their plight," so they became "fighters... at war with their own government." In this beautifully told history, Lee unearths the contributions of everyday women who not only saved their husbands but influenced military culture.
If you thought as I did, that you knew everything about the Vietnam POW/MIA subject, think again. This back story tells about the fight back home, about a determined group wives (and some mothers) who would not relent in their long campaign to ignore the party line and get the job done. Like a Message to Garcia, they didn’t need further instructions. They just delivered the message, and finally won their long, exhausting struggle. These were the unknown—until now—heroines who helped win the Battle of Hanoi.