Ross Perot – A Tireless Supporter Of The Navy POW Wives - Coronado Eagle & Journal | Coronado News | Coronado Island News: Opinion

Ross Perot – A Tireless Supporter Of The Navy POW Wives

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Posted: Thursday, July 18, 2019 4:49 pm

Ross Perot died last week, and the nation remembered him in many ways. He represented the epitome of the American dream as the self-made billionaire who founded Electronic Data Systems after serving in the Navy and later as a salesperson for IBM.

Perot was also remembered for his involvement in politics. He joined the 1992 presidential race as a third-party candidate when he felt that neither party was doing a good job on its own. He ran a quirky campaign and gave lectures in infomercial format. And as surprising as it might sound in this day of candidates being camera ready, he garnered 19% of the vote (he might have gotten more had he not unexpectedly pulled out of the race before summer when he was polling at the top of the pack, only to reenter just before the election).

But what I thought about when I heard the news of Ross Perot’s passing was neither his wealth nor his political runs. Instead, I thought about how he reached into Coronado and managed to serve up comfort to a contingent of Navy wives at a time of tremendous turmoil for our military and our country. I learned about his connection to Coronado when reading the book, “The League of Wives,” by Heath Hardage Lee, in anticipation of an exhibition coming to the Coronado Historical Association in the fall. The book is largely about the efforts of the late resident, Sybil Stockdale, to raise awareness about the prisoners of war in Vietnam and her attempts to help secure their humane treatment and, ultimately, their release.

Ross Perot had no personal connection to the war in Vietnam or to the prisoners and those missing in action. But he, reportedly, became aware of the issue when he saw news reports of a group of POW wives who had finally decided to go public about the plight of their husbands, which included some being missing without any knowledge of whether or not they had been captured and some who were known to be captive, but who were being tortured. For many years, the wives had kept quiet and had hoped that diplomacy on the part of the US government would work to help secure better conditions and release for their husbands. But, according to Hardage Lee, they eventually turned to “the world media to help shame the North Vietnamese into compliance. Sybil Stockdale [of Coronado], the wife of the highest-ranking naval POW, Jim Stockdale, was the first to go public…”

Perot reportedly took notice when the women sent a delegation to France to try to talk to the North Vietnamese and get information about their husbands in 1969. He immediately requested a meeting to see what he could do to help. By the end of 1969, he had funded the POW/MIA awareness group United We Stand, funded further flights for the women to travel to Paris, and even chartered two Boeing 707s in an attempt to deliver food, medicine, and Christmas gifts to the POWs in Vietnam. That effort failed, but the larger effort of helping to raise awareness about the missing and imprisoned was invaluable.

Sybil Stockdale had been trying to get this sort of attention on the men for years. And Ross Perot was finally able to help provide it on a level that Stockdale and her fellow Navy wives had not been able to. Perot spent millions of dollars on newspaper and television ads and nearly a half million for the supplies on the failed Christmas flights. Resources of this scale, the women had not been able to garner on their own. But as much as anything, the commitment from Perot helped shore up the hopes of the families of the POW/MIA.

Perot continued to support the women for the duration of their struggle. He continued to fund awareness of the issue and he was there to co-host, with then-Governor Ronald Reagan, a parade in San Francisco when the men were finally released in 1973. As another grand gesture, he also flew all of the released POWs and their wives to Dallas for a welcome home party at the Cotton Bowl in June of that year.

Perot was a Naval Academy graduate, so perhaps that connection influenced his decision to intervene on behalf of Admiral and Mrs. Stockdale and all of the other POW’s and their families. But it seems to me that the connection ran deeper than that. By the time all was said and done and Admiral Stockdale had been chosen as Perot’s running mate in 1992, they called themselves friends. At the time of his appointment, Stockdale said, “It’s my honor to be my old friend Ross Perot’s running mate.” That friendship was real and was forged through many years of unwavering support for the Stockdale family.

In that way, Ross Perot touched Coronado. We should remember him and his enduring support for a family and an effort so dear to this town.

Rest in peace.

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