The League of Wives

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date: 16 Apr 2019

Member Reviews

3.5 stars
There, there darlin, I know you are upset. I promise you we’re doing everything possible to get information about your POW/MIA husband. We’re asking the Swiss Red Cross to intercede with Hanoi and give us a status report. Now dry your eyes and powder your nose. Leave it to us. We’ll get results.
But nothing happens. The North Vietnamese don’t respond. The Swiss are denied entry into Vietnam. Wives are in limbo. What are you going to do?
In The League of Wives you find out what gets done and by who. It’s the wives of POW/MIA who take action. These stay at home wives, who followed the rules of etiquette for military wives as outlined in handbooks supplied them by service branches, did what officials couldn’t. Led by Jane Denton, Sybil Stockdale and Louise Mulligan, they stepped into the spotlight for their husbands. They left behind the safety of home for the role of lobbyer of government officials, speech giver and public spokesperson. They not only wrote letters to the editor, they met the newspaper editors. Not a big deal you say. All these actions demanded resolve, skill, tenacity, and a willingness to speak forcefully to powerful individuals. These women did not take that pat on your head as the end of their job. They took getting their husbands home as the end of their job. Meeting the President of the U.S. was part of their plan: so was meeting anti war activists.
In The League of Wives, author Heath Hardage Lee unfolds the story of the women who gave their all to bring their POW husbands home from Vietnam. Underneath the pillbox hat was more than a bouffant hairdo - there was a strong willed human brain churning out ideas to get husbands home.
The reader is made aware of the outcome in this story. The story is not do they succeed, it is the story of how they succeeded. It is an admirable story. I received an advance copy of this book from NetGalley. #NetGalley #TheLeagueofWives
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First, let me say thank you to St Martin's Press and Netgalley for an advanced copy of this book in exchange for a review.

League of Wives is fascinating.   It's about POW/MIA wives during the Vietnam War. At first, they stayed silent but soon change their stance. This is as well-researched work of nonfiction.
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Exactly as the title indicates, this important, powerful and often shocking book tells the story of how a group of 1960s American military wives refused to sit back and do as they were told – in other words be submissive to military discipline and keep quiet as the authorities insisted they should – and banded together to get their POW/MIA husbands back from Vietnam. It’s a highly detailed and meticulously researched account, and that is both its strength and, unfortunately, its weakness. Such a level of detail bogs down the narrative and becomes repetitive. Nevertheless, it’s a story that deserved to be told, that needed to be told, and the author is to be congratulated in bringing it to life.
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As a Military Spouse, this book caught my attention.  The League of Wives tells the story from the eyes of a group of POW/MIA spouses during the Vietnam War, and their back and forth struggle with the Government.  They were instructed to keep mum on the statuses of their spouse’s conditions.  In the beginning, they complied but became increasingly disenchanted with the Administration not doing enough to help our Soldiers.  These Women banded together, took it public, and did what they felt was necessary to bring their (and others) loved ones home.  From hosting small meetings with local wives to using mass media to spread their plight, these women did it all.  They took a time of hardship and turned it into a movement. Although the campaign was successful after their POW’s came home, and the fanfare died down, they had to readjust back into their normal lives.  Any Military spouse can tell you there really isn’t such a thing after deployment.  I can only imagine how they felt without the resources we have today that help us with reintegration.  PTSD was acknowledged then, but not widely accepted as it is now. 
If you are looking for a detailed account of POW/MIA, this isn’t the book for you.  There are parts of the book that seemed to drag on with no real context.  However, I did like the back stories on the women involved and the changing times in the US during this war.  My Husband has deployed, and this exact situation is a constant fear for Military Spouses.  I commend the bravery of these Women and the sacrifices they made that has in tuned changed the way the Military handles these issues today. I also enjoyed references to various Military installations as I lived at or near a few that were mentioned. The book reminded me of Hidden Figures.  Women have come so far from the ’50s and ’60s, and who doesn’t like reading about defying the odds?  Rumor has it Reese Witherspoon may option this for a movie.  If she does, I would definitely see it.
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Everytime I read a story like this, it reminds me of how much her-story is not taught in classes. This was such an interesting read and I learned so much. Keep books like these coming and I will keep recommending them!
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This book gives you an inside look at what POW/MIA wives went through at home during the Vietnam war. This was an interesting read and these women were strong and determined and  I cannot imagine the fear, worry and pain of worrying about your husband, if he is hurt and if you will ever see him again. I was unaware of this history prior to this book, enjoyable and interesting read.
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I do not normally read books about Vietnam or that era but this was a story I had never heard of. The League of Wives is the story of the POW/MIA wives of the Vietnam war. North Vietnam, while a signer of the Geneva Convention, did not follow those rules during the 10 year war because they claimed these servicemen were war criminals and not POWs. As a result of this not much was known about the number of, names of, and treatment of the POWs. The Johnson administration did not help the matter either, The government told the wives of the men to "keep quiet" because it could hurt the men. After several years of getting nowhere, the wives created a group/league and started to tell what they knew. They also lobbied everyone to assistance. It took until 1973 for the war to end and these men to be released. At which point many of these wives had been separated from their husbands for up to nine years.

The book is in chronological order so you really get a good idea of how long this went on for. If you are a fan of non-fiction or stories of regular people who do extraordinary things this is a good one.
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I am sure that books are not intended to be read one dry boring chapter at a time with a quick run to another more enjoyable book, only to come back for the next chapter with a feeling of desperation until the time you can escape again.  Unfortunately, that is what I experienced with this book.  

There was a lot of hype around this book and I fell for it.  

Will it appeal to others?  I hope so.  But for now, I am going to put this away, after the fourth chapter, and maybe return in the future.
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Thank you to NetGalley and the publisher for providing me a copy of this interesting non-fiction book. As a daughter of an Air Force pilot in the Vietnam war, this was an especially interesting book to me, and one I highly recommended to my parents to read. 

These brave, determined wives of POW and MIA men in Vietnam had to deal with so much that the general public never heard about, at least not for several years until the women went against the "keep quiet" instructions given to them for years by the government.

Great insight into what went on during the Vietnam war.
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This book provides a fascinating look at what POW wives were doing on the homefront during the Vietnam War. This book provides a different perspective on the Vietnam war era, looking at a group commonly ignored. It provides a unique glimpse into 60s culture, the Vietnam era, military standards, and the treatment of women.

Though the wives tried to play by the good military wife handbook and follow the LBJ administration's request for staying on the down low, they gave up as the years dragged on. The feds and the military had no plans on how to act with a rogue government that was not observing the Geneva Conventions (though why would you expect a rogue government to do so?). The wives cooperated with an intelligence officer to send coded messages, they traveled, they worked on public opinion. They organized non-political groups (local and national), held conventions, met with the press and officials around the world, wrote letters and did everything they could to help bring their husbands home. Now, did the really have any effect? Wasn't the general public (the great unwashed, not the officers' families, see below) tiring of sending their sons off to Vietnam to be killed? Since many of the men had been held for 5-7 years, did the women really "take on the government" to "bring their husbands home"? They certainly tried, but were they truly successful or was the general public really just over it?

Lee does point out that, largely, POWs in Vietnam were of a different class and rank than in previous wars. These were aviators--highly educated, often upper class, highly trained, and trained for resistance in case of capture (chapter 2). For the most part their wives were also highly educated (over educated, for women who were expected to be perfect wives) and often from the upper class. And she admits that because these were a different sort of people, the pilots were more valuable to the military--though the military and the government was not acting on that. I found this assumption that, because of their social status, these men were more important than POWs in past wars to be a bit offensive. They could certainly be seen as more valuable to the military--who was not making any effort to get them back--but wouldn't that also make them more valuable for the North Vietnamese to keep?

There were some areas I would have liked to see more information on. 1) Finances: the military had no way to get women their husbands' paychecks when they were POWs, creating severe economic strain. Only many of these women were NOT poor--Lee mentions constant flying back and forth, private college, and prep school (really). But what about the MIA wives? Presumably they were not being paid since they were MIA. Did they need to work? Did they need to repay paychecks when their husbands were declared dead? 2) MIA wives in general. The book ends with them largely being shuffled offstage as their husbands were declared deceased. They weren't invited to parties and did not appear on newspapers and in magazines. Were they given any help at all? Did the League do anything for these women that had worked so hard, only to have their dreams crushed? 3) Did any branch of the military being using the SERE training for more men? Lee suggests this training limited the PTSD in the POWs--the one wife she studied who's husband did come home with PTSD was army and not a pilot, so perhaps did not go through SERE.

Pet peeve: throughout this book women are generally referred to by their first names. Children by their first names. Soldiers by first/last or first if mentioned with their wives. Government officials and 
other men by their last names. Here in this book announcing the role they played in the war, and they are still being treated like children. 
Thank you to NetGalley and St Martin's Press for providing me with a digital galley of this book in exchange for an honest review.
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Re-writing history to include the stories of women is soooooo important. This book makes a fantastic contribution to that.
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There are a myriad of reasons for the Vietnam War, just as there are countless reasons for both World Wars. 

This book does not set out to explore those reasons; it is the result of an exhibition of material pertaining to the organisation – The League of Wives, now exhibiting at the Virginia Museum of History and Culture, Richmond, Virginia until September 3, 2019.

I have both praise and criticism for this book.

Criticisms: The book is about the League of Wives for POWs AND MIAs, yet besides a paragraph here and there, LEE neglects to mention that 1,604 ( (at last count) MIAs did NOT return home and most of their remains have never been found. The League of Wives continued operations beyond 1973 to get the MIAs home, LEE’s book focuses on a party at the White House celebrating the return of 591 POWs.

It’s only part of the story, not the whole story, and as it is the book only tells part of a story, not the whole story. As I said to include every reason for the war would be impossible, however we are three generations down the line already.

Two chapters giving a brief background with the main reasons and build-up to the war would have been appreciated by younger readers who have to make do with what is taught by government policy and what is available on the internet.

An epilogue detailing the events regarding the withdrawal from Vietnam, including more than one paragraph on the MIA issue would have rounded the book off better.

There are also some chapters where nothing happens repeatedly. Those chapters could be combined giving the author a chance to ground the book and present a more detailed conclusion without turning it into a voluminous book.

My last criticism is the that LEE toes government policy with regards to her reporting of the fates of the MIAs, as an author it is my belief that authors should be more objective.

Praise: LEE did her research excellently and dug out the gold from piles and of material. She presented an interesting story, never been told from this perspective before.

As a non-fiction historical book, she has a comprehensive bibliography which she calls a selected bibliography, I assure you, it is comprehensive and she has followed all avenues to include items from YouTube and internet articles in her bibliography. It was in fact, this part of the book (which I normally skim over) which made me look twice since web pages were included and these led to some astounding and tearful videos.

It is difficult to imagine what someone actually goes through when in a position like that, but as the saying goes – a picture is worth a thousand words. My heart goes out to all families with loved ones who are currently deployed, missing or POWs worldwide. As human beings, we all feel the same about those we love and care for; it is an unthinkable position to be in when you know nothing, not even if they are dead or alive.

LEE did very well to capture that feeling of falling into the abyss and the never-ending fall. These were very definitely strong women, who carried on being strong far past the limit where many others would and probably did fall by the roadside. They never gave up; I fully believe that due to these women being a thorn in everyone’s side, they got their husbands home. The part they played may have been small, but it was crucial.

I rate this book 3 stars and thank St. Martin’s Press and Netgalley.
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As I read The League of Wives it made me think of the book Hidden Figures, another history of women in the mid 20th century who found themselves achieving so much more than was ever expected (especially by men). This story of the wives of Vietnam war POW and MIAs is something that definitely needed telling and it's a shame it's taken so long for it to happen. As someone who grew up in the 1960s and went to college in the early 1970s I lived through this era but although I remember the articles about our prisoners of war vaguely (and I do remember the bracelets that were sold with the name of a POW or MIA member on them), this was peripheral to my life even though my father was a retired Air Force master sergeant and my home was around military bases. 
  This book details the very long time some of these families waited to be reunited with their husbands and fathers and sons (and unfortunately to not be reunited in the case of most MIAs). Although Vietnam had signed the Geneva Convention it was never honored by them in the treatment of American prisoners. The premise of this book is that it was through the actions of these wives and their insistence to publicize their plight that helped bring about their final release and also to some degree improved their lot in captivity. For the first two years, the government's response under LBJ was mostly telling the wives to keep quiet and not cause waves. When Nixon was elected, his administration was more conciliatory but it was still many years before the war ended and our POW/MIAs were returned home. This is a very detailed book and sometimes that can slow the flow of the narrative but overall this is an excellent history that deserves to be told.
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3 ½ rounded up to a 4.

When the draft lottery for the Vietnam War started in 1969 I was dating my husband, then a college student, he was extremely fortunate not to have been called to serve. Afterwards the Vietnam War went on and on and while I remember a lot of news about it, I can’t say that I followed it closely. That’s one reason why this book attracted my attention, I wanted to know more about the MIA’s and POW’s. I have also heard that Reese Witherspoon is going to make a movie about it.

In March of 1964 the first reported capture of a US serviceman in Vietnam was reported. By the end of the war approximately 2,500 servicemen and other personnel had been reported as prisoners of war or missing in action.

What I liked about this book is that it didn’t concentrate on the politics of the war, that you can read about in numerous other historical books. This was strictly about the wives of the missing men and how, after battling their own government and Hanoi finally had had enough and banded together to get their men home. I didn’t realize how much President Johnson failed to implement plans to investigate how many men were MIA’s and how many men were being captured and tortured in Vietnam prisons. His lack of communication to the public and these military wives was atrocious.

The wives banded together and  started to lobby the government leaders and run a media campaign. From many parts of the US they banded together to get the answers they needed.
When Richard Nixon became President he was much more willing to listen to these women and realized that they were, in deed, a force to be reckoned with.  

On February 12, 1973, 115 men who had been POW’s arrived at Clark Air Force base in the Philippines.  After these and other men arrived home news finally reached the public about the horrific conditions that these men had been held under and the severe torture that many endured. 

The women described in this book had to change their lives and in some cases their personalities from being dutiful military wives to creating a group of strong, resourceful, incredibly effective spokesmen for their husbands and families. They were true heroes and it wasn’t until the men were home that they realized what a large part their wives played in obtaining their release.

This is a highly detailed, well researched book. I did get bogged down in some areas and felt myself skimming to get through some of the book. The writing is very good and if the subject interests you I highly recommend you pick up this book. 

I received an ARC of this book from the author and publisher through NetGalley.

This has been posted to Amazon
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When I saw that Reese Witherspoon has plans to make this into a movie, I knew I had to read it.  I am so glad that I did.  These women were incredibly courageous and their loyalty to bringing their husbands home from Vietnam is admirable.  I love nonfiction that focuses on women that are strong and have unique stories and this book definitely fits that!
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The oomph of the book slows a little in the intricacies of the international trips the women made to the Paris peace talks and the various schisms of the league but it does convey how tireless were their efforts even as the years dragged on and mental stress and strain battered their strength. One thing is for sure – they gave people hell for any paternalistic patronizing and sent more than one government flunky scurrying back to Washington with his tail between his legs. After long years of effort, the peace accord was finally signed and arrangements were made to return the POWs. Despite facing a drastically changed America, most of the families managed to settle into post-war lives. Along the way there though, these women became fearless, feisty, and determined. B
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What an amazing story during a very tough time in history. As a military spouse I was captivated by the strength of this group of women who banded together to find their husbands after they went missing during the Vietnam War. Not knowing much about this particular time in history besides what I learned during history class in high school I found this to be a thought provoking story that shed light of what these women endured during the war and thought it was a good portrayal of life on the home front. While their husbands served their country these wives served too and I admire their strength, courage and bravery.
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At the beginning of the Vietnam War hundreds of American soldiers were considered either missing or captured, and President Johnson’s administration approached their families with a simple message: keep quiet. With little information sharing, most families did just that. But then footage started appearing from North Vietnam confirming the worst. In one video, Admiral Jeremiah Denton discussed how great he’d been treated, but his eyes told another story— literally, he blinked out a message in Morse Code: TORTURE.

And that’s when most wives of service members could no longer remain quiet.

There are some stories that are so unbelievable that it’s imperative for historians to eventually explore what happened for a broader audience. Fortunately, author Heath Hardage Lee has expertly crafted these wives’ experiences into an engrossing, revealing narrative. She’s done this by tapping into a common thread for these women— frustration. Frustration at war. Frustration at being unable to speak publicly in their grief. Perhaps above all else, frustration at the lack of attention when they finally did go public. This is palpable on the page as they navigate the bureaucracy of Washington and the stubbornness of Hanoi all in the name of finding answers.

While the broad history of this movement is fascinating, it’s Lee’s exploration of how this frustration shaped the individual women that makes this work so compelling. There’s a rotating cast, though Lee remarkably keeps each of the wives distinguished and memorable. Led by the captivating and focused Sybil Stockdale, most balked at the idea of becoming activists. And yet they bonded to form support groups that eventually expanded into the National League of Families of American Prisoners and Missing in Southeast Asia.

Today, it’s frustrating that the story of this courageous group of women isn’t more renowned. However, Lee’s tremendous work finally gives them some of the celebration they’re due.
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In July, 1965, I was eagerly looking forward to start high school when Jeremiah Denton was shot down over North Vietnam to become the first POW. In February, 1973, I had been married for two years when he became the first released prisoner to get off the plane to freedom. His wife was raising seven children on her own during this time and trying to figure out what she could do to get her husband home. We have heard about the difficult time our prisoners had but not much attention was paid to what the amazingly brave wives endured during this time.

The League of Wives is an amazing account to the courage, tenacity, and resilience of POW wives. Heath Lee brings their stories to life. Amazing research. I felt like I was a “fly on the wall” reading their story. I could imagine their stories as a mini-series. I also think the book would be a great bookclub choice. Thank you NetGalley and St. Martin’s Press for an ARC in exchange for an honest review.
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This book tells the empowering tale of life as a POW/MIA wife and the struggles they faced to get their government to listen to them and bring their loved ones home.

It was a good read, but there were parts that I didn't feel should have been included as they didn't fit with the story, just the time. Once you got past all that and things started happening, it was a quick read. I did struggle in other areas and it was hard to focus, but I learned a lot about how the government worked and covered up certain discrepancies.

Thank you to St. Martin's Press and NetGalley for an advanced copy.
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