Coronado is the birthplace of Naval Aviation, and as a community we reflect on this historical legacy with pride. We also remember the fighter pilots who were shot down during the Vietnam War (1954-1973) and spent years imprisoned under horrible conditions. Lesser known are the wives of those captured Naval Aviators, who, against all odds, started a movement at the dining room table of Coronado Navy spouse Sybil Stockdale, whose aviator husband, James Stockdale, was among those held prisoner. From those small beginnings, The League of Wives was born and would eventually have an international impact, facilitating the release of 591 prisoners of war. The League also was instrumental in connecting POW and MIA wives across the country to champion the cause of all members of our armed forces held prisoner or missing in action.
The League included several other Coronado Navy spouses, among them Jenny Connell Robertson, Shirley Stark, Sherry Martin, Pat Mearns (Air Force spouse) and Chloe Moore, all of whom are featured in “The League of Wives, The Untold Story of the Women Who Took On the U.S. Government to Bring Their Husbands Home,” a powerful book by historian and author Heath Hardage Lee. The book is currently under contract with Reese Witherspoon’s Hello Sunshine production company to be made into a feature film with Sony 3000 pictures.
The League of Wives eventually became the National League of Families for Prisoners of War and Missing in Southeast Asia with thousands of members across the nation. Together, they broke protocol and courageously spoke out on behalf of their husbands. Our government sought to silence these women, but they refused. They took on both our government and the North Vietnamese Communists who held their husbands as prisoners. They stood strong for years, while still raising their children, not knowing if they or their families would ever see their husbands again.
Ultimately, this truly was a national movement, but its birthplace was right here in Coronado. It is a centerpiece of our community history that we, as a group that includes Navy spouses, educators and women who knew Sybil Stockdale and her family, believe deserves to be memorialized with a prominent public monument in Coronado. As Sybil Stockdale said on several occasions, she founded The League of Wives but it was not a movement about her as an individual, it was a group effort that employed the talents and courage of many heroic women who joined together and changed history.
These women are important role models for all of us, and especially for current and future generations of young Coronado women who will be inspired and feel empowered by The League of Wives, knowing its birthplace is where they now live and these trailblazing footsteps are there for them to follow in their own unique ways.
In a larger context, a memorial to The League also honors all military spouses, reminds us of the challenges they face and the contributions they make, especially the hundreds of spouses here in Coronado that form such an important part of our community.
The League of Wives Memorial Project is a long term effort that will take a great deal of community effort and dedication. It is currently in Phase One of its effort, which involves gathering signatures on an online petition to demonstrate the widespread support for this memorial project. In just a short period of time they have hundreds of signatures, with comments such as:
“The creation of the League is key piece of Coronado History. A statue in honor of our local heroes is more than appropriate, it is overdue!”
“I have known many of these women and they had so much courage and strength. They deserve to be honored.”
“I’m a military wife and I will/ would fight everyone till my spouse was home. I support this and will say, being any military spouse is very difficult. We do not get the credit deserved and over looked most of the time. That is not why we do it though, we do it for our loved ones and our country.”
“I wholeheartedly support a memorial statue in Coronado to honor these admirable women.”
If you would like to view the petition please go to: https://www.ipetitions.com/petition/leagueofwives
Some personal notes from members of The League of Wives Memorial Project:
My name is Alexia Palacios-Peters: My husband is an active-duty Naval Aviator stationed at NAS North Island. We have spent 16 years of his career stationed on Coronado and enjoy the various histories of Coronado, including that of Sybil Stockdale and the women who fought by her side. Military spouses face unique challenges including frequent duty station moves and deployments. Through these, we become resilient, finding strength in ourselves and in each other while embedding ourselves in our community to provide stability for our families. We may not be “from” the community we are in, but we “are” the community in which we live. I currently serve as President of the Naval Officers’ Spouses Club of San Diego and represent over 200 members in the San Diego area, many of whom have spouses stationed on Coronado. Mrs. Stockdale and her movement is our legacy. I am humbled to play a part in recognizing their efforts and the sacrifices of all military spouses through The League of Wives Memorial.
My name is Amy Steward: As a Navy Junior, a military wife for almost 40 years, a teacher of military children for over 25 years, and a very active supporter of veterans, my respect for the military and their families is boundless. The League of Wives Memorial represents a wonderful and long over-due tribute to not only the wives of Vietnam POWs/MIAs but to the families of all members of the service who have served their nation.
My name is Doug St. Denis: I’ve been a Navy wife, sister, mother, daughter, granddaughter, aunt, cousin and lifelong friend of the U.S. Navy. I grew up with John McCain. We lived down the street from the Stockdales during Jim’s imprisonment. Our kids went to school together. Sybil Stockdale was an inspiration and a giant hero to every woman who knew her, including me. A League of Wives Memorial belongs in Coronado, where the movement was born... and will also stand as testimony to all military spouses who do so much for our country.
My name is Cathy McJannet: I served as a nursing officer and am a military wife. I have lived in Coronado for many years and have nothing but respect and admiration for Sybil Stockdale and the League of Wives Memorial Project. These women were trail blazers and deserve recognition best displayed in the form of a memorial statue located in Coronado.
My name is Mary Sikes: Being a Navy spouse for 20 years was an adventure, a challenge and a crucible for making lifelong friends. We served with Sybil and Admiral Jim Stockdale at the Naval War College in Newport Rhode Island, one of their first assignments after he was freed. It was Sybil who founded and led her “League of Wives” from her dining room table right here in Coronado all the way to the Paris talks which brought Jim and the others home. This is a Coronado story about a Coronado family. It is a profoundly inspiring story in the birthplace of Naval Aviation.
My name is Millie Creager: My husband Gunder flew combat over North Vietnam in 1968. When he came back we were concerned about the men who were shot down, those who didn’t return with their squadrons. Sybil Stockdale sent words to the wives’ clubs that we should get involved by writing letters and pressuring elected officials to become proactive to help these men. We did and it worked. It is time to honor Sybil Stockdale and all the POW/MIA wives who fought the system. If one picture is worth a thousand words, one statue is worth a thousand stories that can be told and retold so what these women accomplished will never be forgotten. I urge everyone to join me in helping this statue become part of Coronado’s living history.
My name is Sally Ann Zoll: I am an Army spouse as well as an Army mother. As CEO of United Through Reading, a 32 year old nonprofit that works to keep military families connected through the power of reading aloud together, I have worked intimately with military families through the years and understand the stressors they experience. The League of Wives faced challenges far beyond belief, however, and they did it with grace and perseverance. Coronado is the home to so many military spouses; it is only fitting that we honor these extraordinary women.