Sybil Bailey Stockdale (November 25, 1924 – October 10, 2015) was the wife of a Vietnam War United States Navy pilot named James Stockdale who became a prisoner of war (POW). Sybil then became the founder and first National Coordinator of the National League of Families, a nonprofit organization that worked on behalf of American Vietnam-era Missing in Action and Prisoner of War Families. In her capacity as national coordinator for the League, she also served as its liaison to the White House and the Department of Defense.
Stockdale is credited with helping to better publicize the mistreatment of US prisoners by North Vietnam and for helping to improve American policies concerning the treatment and handling of POW families. Stockdale is the recipient of the Navy Distinguished Public Service Award, the highest award given by the Department of the Navy to a citizen not employed by the Department. She is the only wife of an active-duty officer ever to have been so honored.
Stockdale and her husband wrote the book In Love and War: the Story of a Family's Ordeal and Sacrifice During the Vietnam War (1984).
Her husband, James Bond Stockdale, was a recipient of the Medal of Honor for bravery in war, and after his release at the end of the war, was eventually promoted to vice admiral and by the time of his death in 2005 was one of the United States' most honored and decorated military veterans in the post-World War II era. He was present at the August 4, 1964 Gulf of Tonkin Incident, spent 71⁄2 years under torture as a POW in North Vietnam, later became President of The Citadel, and eventually ran for Vice-President of the United States with Ross Perot heading the ticket.
The Vietnam War years
Husband's Capture in Vietnam / Pentagon "Keep quiet" Policy
When Sybil Stockdale's husband James was shot down in 1965 over North Vietnam, the US government had a "keep-quiet" policy, asking relatives of POWs to not raise a fuss about mistreatment of prisoners. The official reason was not that the prisoners were not being tortured, but bad publicity might result in worse treatment.
Founding of the National League of Families
After a year of abiding by the government "keep-quiet" policy, Sybil found herself more and more disenchanted with the pretense that prisoners like her husband were treated fairly; James had been tortured, had inflicted serious wounds on himself to convince his captors they could not break or use him, and had spent years in solitary confinement.
In the summer of 1966, Sybil along with other members of a San Diego POW / MIA support group decided to go national, and formed the National League of Families of American Prisoners Missing in Southeast Asia. Sybil was the first national coordinator. Other support groups from east coast military communities later became part of the National League.
Within a year she was sitting in the office of the Secretary Of Defense Melvin Laird discussing policy. The Nixon Administration had ended the "keep quiet" policy and allegations of torture of US prisoners became fully public, with Sybil a forceful spokeswoman. In 1970, Stockdale, along with her husband's 1992 running mate, H. Ross Perot, testified before the U.S. House of Representative's Committee on Foreign Affairs.
Sybil Stockdale co-wrote a memoir with her husband James (who also wrote a number of books on his own). In Love and War: the Story of a Family's Ordeal and Sacrifice During the Vietnam War was the most popular book written by either of the Stockdales.
In the book James and Sybil Stockdale wrote alternating chapters describing their experiences of the Vietnam war. James wrote of his experiences as a POW, and Sybil wrote of her experiences as the wife of a POW, dealing with the stress and waiting at home and her journey cutting through Washington red tape and publicizing the plight of American POWs in Vietnam.
NBC adapted the book into a made-for-television movie that had 45 million viewers.
Christening of USS Stockdale (DDG 106)
Four Medal of Honor recipients and seven former prisoners of war attended the ceremony that marked a milestone in construction of the 9,200-ton ship named for her late husband.
Sybil Stockdale was born in New Haven, Connecticut. She held an undergraduate degree from Mount Holyoke College, and a master's degree in education from Stanford University. Jim and Sybil Stockdale have four sons: Jim, Sid, Stanford and Taylor. She died at SHARP hospital in Coronado, California on October 10, 2015 from Parkinson's disease, at the age of 90.
- "Obituaries: Sybil Bailey Stockdale". Retrieved September 13, 2017.
- Stockdale, James; Sybil Stockdale (1990) . In Love and War: the Story of a Family's Ordeal and Sacrifice During the Vietnam War. Naval Institute Press. ISBN 0-87021-308-3.
- Grubb, Evelyn; Carol Jose (1 September 2008). You Are Not Forgotten: A Family's Quest for Truth and the Founding of the National League of Families. St. Petersburg, FL: Vandamere Press. ISBN 978-0-918339-71-3.
- "An Indomitable Spirit", James Stockdale Biography, Museum of Living History, Academy of Achievement, Washington D.C., "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2011-05-11. Retrieved 2011-04-13.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
- Stockdate, Sybil; Fascell, Dante; Perot, H. Ross (29 April – 6 May 1970). "Hearings before the Subcommittee on National Security Policy and Scientific Developments of the Committee on Foreign Affairs, House of Representatives, Ninety-first Congress, Second Session" (PDF). Congressional Record. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office: 58—65. 46-301 0. Retrieved 9 April 2020.
Mr Fascell: ... Mrs. Stockdale, I think that you have rendered a very valuable service by letting them know that the target is North Vietnam, and that is where the trouble lies. This is where all of our efforts are really directed, and eventually get North Vietnamese to change their mind and attitude and bring about that which is necessary and desirable. You are advocating the very essence of international politics. I admire you for having not only perceived it, but putting it into action.
- Tucker, Spencer C. (20 May 2011). Encyclopedia of the Vietnam War, The: A Political, Social, and Military ... google.ca. ISBN 9781851099610. Retrieved October 15, 2015.
- "Sybil Stockdale, who fought to end torture of POWs, dies". wmcactionnews5.com. October 13, 2015. Retrieved October 15, 2015.[dead link]
- Sybil Stockdale: Military wife who became a campaigner against the torture of US prisoners of war
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Sybil Stockdale.|
- National League of Families website Nonprofit organization co-founded by Sybil Stockdale
- Museum of Living History, article about James Stockdales experiences as a POW, also discusses Sybil Stockdale's efforts on his behalf
- Sybil Bailey Stockdale papers, Hoover Institution Library & Archives, https://oac.cdlib.org/findaid/ark:/13030/c8tq668j/