Sybil Stockdale, who fought to end torture of POWs, dies

AP News
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Posted: Oct 13, 2015 7:08 PM
Sybil Stockdale, who fought to end torture of POWs, dies

CORONADO, Calif. (AP) — Sybil Bailey Stockdale, a Navy wife who fought to end the torture of U.S. prisoners of war in Vietnam, has died.

Stockdale's son, Sid Stockdale, said Tuesday that his mother died Oct. 10 at a hospital after suffering from Parkinson's disease. She was 90.

Stockdale is the wife of the late Vice Adm. James Bond Stockdale. She found her calling after her husband's plane was shot down during the Vietnam War in 1965 and he was taken prisoner. The U.S. government at the time discouraged military wives from speaking up about the mistreatment of the prisoners of war, Sid Stockdale said. Nonetheless, Stockdale organized military wives who demanded the U.S. government pressure North Vietnam to abide by the Geneva Convention.

Stockdale helped found the League of American Families of American Prisoners and Missing in Southeast Asia and she served as the organization's first national coordinator.

She appeared on national television, met regularly with then-President Richard Nixon and confronted a North Vietnamese delegation at the Paris Peace Talks. At the same time, she worked closely with the CIA to be able to write secretly encoded letters to her husband, who was tortured by his captors.

The military credited Stockdale with helping 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, a naval aviator, was a fellow POW in the Hanoi Hilton with 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 to the newspaper.

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," Stockdale, a history teacher in Albuquerque said. "She was just tireless in her efforts and a very, very strong fighter in increasing people awareness about the plight of the POWs."

The Navy awarded her its Distinguished Public Service Award, whose citation 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."

Stockdale later co-authored "In Love and War" with her husband about their experience. The book is still widely read by military spouses and Sid Stockdale said her mother's message in the book still resonates with them today.

"I think the book's message was to recognize that there's a place and time and need to be loyal and recognize the military is a unique institution with a big job to do, but then at the end of the day, it's very important if you feel as though you need to speak up, then you should do so. I think it's a fantastic message," he said.

Her papers and memoirs from the Vietnam era, written in long hand on yellow legal pads, today are kept at the Hoover library.

Until the end, she continued to meet at her home monthly in Coronado with the wives of POWs and those missing in action.

In 1992, Vice Adm. Stockdale ran as the vice presidential candidate with independent Ross Perot.

Sybil Stockdale was predeceased by her husband in 2005 and her son, Stanford Stockdale, in 2014.

She leaves behind three sons, Jim Stockdale of Beaver, Pennsylvania; Sid Stockdale of Albuquerque, New Mexico; and Taylor Stockdale of Claremont, California; and eight grandchildren.

A memorial service will be held for Stockdale in Coronado and she will be buried beside her husband on the grounds of the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland.