Sybil Stockdale, who dedicated years of her life toward ending the torture of U.S. prisoners of war in Vietnam after her husband — future Navy vice admiral and 1992 vice presidential candidate James B. Stockdale — was taken prisoner, died Oct. 10, it was reported from Coronado, Calif. She was 90.
The cause was Parkinson’s disease, her son Sid Stockdale said.
Mrs. Stockdale, a longtime Coronado resident, found her calling after her husband’s plane was shot down during the Vietnam War in 1965 and he was taken prisoner. He would survive 7
The U.S. government at the time discouraged military wives from speaking up about the mistreatment of POWs, Sid Stockdale said. Nonetheless, Mrs. Stockdale organized military wives who demanded the U.S. government pressure North Vietnam to abide by the Geneva Conventions.
Mrs. Stockdale helped found the National League of Families of American Prisoners and Missing in Southeast Asia and served as the organization’s first national coordinator.
She appeared on national television, met regularly with then-President Richard M. Nixon and confronted a North Vietnamese delegation at the Paris peace talks. She also worked closely with the CIA to write encoded letters to her husband, who was tortured by his captors.
The military credited Mrs. Stockdale with helping to secure the safe return of her husband and other POWs in 1973.
James Stockdale, then a commander, disfigured himself so he could not be used in Vietnamese propaganda films — an action for which he received the Medal of Honor in 1976, according to the Navy Times.
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), a former naval aviator, was a fellow POW in the Hoa Lo Prison in Hanoi with Mrs. Stockdale’s husband.
“Sybil’s selfless service and sacrifice fighting for American prisoners of war, those missing in action, and many who are still unaccounted for has left an indelible mark on this nation that will never be forgotten,” McCain said in a statement.
Sid Stockdale was 11 when his father’s plane was shot down and in high school when he returned.
“Those were a lot of tough years, and Mom was such a great inspiration to the other wives of POWs and MIAs,” said Sid Stockdale, a history teacher in Albuquerque. “She was just tireless in her efforts and a very, very strong fighter in increasing people’s awareness about the plight of the POWs.”
The Navy awarded her its Distinguished Public Service Award, the citation of which reads, “Her actions and her indomitable spirit in the face of many adversities contributed immeasurably to the successful safe return of American prisoners, gave hope, support and solace to their families in a time of need and reflected the finest traditions of the Naval service and of the United States of America.”
Sybil Elizabeth Bailey was born Nov. 25, 1924, and grew up in East Haven, Conn. She was a 1946 religion graduate of Mount Holyoke College, a women’s college in Massachusetts, and received a master’s degree in education from Stanford University while raising her family.
She married James Stockdale in 1947. They co-wrote the 1984 book “In Love & War: The Story of a Family’s Ordeal and Sacrifice During the Vietnam Years,” which is still widely read by military spouses.
In 1992, James Stockdale ran as the vice presidential candidate on a third-party ticket headed by Texas billionaire H. Ross Perot. They won 19 percent of the popular vote, losing to Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton (D). President George H.W. Bush headed the Republican ticket.
Mrs. Stockdale’s husband died in 2005, and their son Stanford Stockdale died in 2014. Besides her son Sid Stockdale, survivors include two other sons, Jim Stockdale of Beaver, Pa., and Taylor Stockdale of Claremont, Calif.; and eight grandchildren.
Until the end of her life, Mrs. Stockdale continued to meet monthly at her home in Coronado with the wives of POWs and those missing in action.