This Sunday, February 12, 2023, marks the 50th Anniversary of the return of the first contingent of American POWs from the Vietnam War. Some 591 prisoners-of-war, some held up more than eight years in captivity in Vietnam, were—and still are—the longest-held group of POWs in our nation’s history. Many called Coronado home, including Jim Stockdale, Ed Martin, Harry Jenkins, Mel Moore, and Bill Stark.
The POWs had been held captive for years, enduring brutal conditions and repeated torture, yet they emerged from their captivity with their spirit unbroken and their resolve unwavering. The return of the POWs was a symbol of hope and resilience in the face of adversity, and it touched the hearts of people across the country.
Their return home to Coronado was met with a warm welcome from family and friends, who had waited years for their return. The impact of the POWs’ return was far-reaching and long-lasting. Coronado women like Pat Mearns, Sybil Stockdale, Sherry Martin, Shirley Stark, Marge Jenkins, and Chloe Moore galvanized a president and a nation around the plight of their missing and captive men. Together they started the national POW/MIA movement that is alive today with spouses and families across the United States.
For the nation, the return of the POWs was a turning point in the war, and it marked the beginning of the healing process for the nation and for the families of the POWs. The bravery, leadership, and unwavering spirit of the POWs inspired people from all walks of life, and their return was seen as a triumph of hope and love over adversity. However, at this same time, during the end of the Vietnam War in 1973, families of Missing in Action (MIA) service members faced an uncertain future and a new chapter for these families opened. The search for answers and closure continues for many MIA families to this day.
Locals can learn more about the legacy of these former POWs after the Vietnam War at CHA’s Open Doors: Vietnam POWs Fifty Years of Freedom when it opens this March. The exhibit takes a close look at thirty former Vietnam POWs from all branches of the military. Produced by author Taylor Baldwin Kiland and photographer Jamie Howren, this exhibit captures the subjects’ personalities with photographic portraits and interviews that add verbal color, context, and quotes.