Book Launch of “A World Apart: Growing Up Stockdale During Vietnam” at Coronado Library Thursday, May 25th
It wasn’t supposed to be a book.
But when Sid Stockdale was sent a copy of his mom’s diary in 2016, a year after her passing, he started journaling. Once he started, he didn’t stop.
Sid was only eleven years old when his father, Vice Admiral James Stockdale, was shot down in his Navy fighter jet and captured in North Vietnam in 1965. Stockdale was held as a prisoner of war in the “Hanoi Hilton” for seven years, four of them in solitary confinement (two of them blind-folded) while his mom, Sybil, was left raise four boys and await his return.
The words in Sybil’s diary filled in the missing pieces of Sid’s memories, allowing him to reconcile a tumultuous childhood of nightmarish proportions with the strength and love of his family.
The Coronado Public Library, the Coronado Historical Association, and Bay Books will present the launch of A World Apart: Growing Up Stockdale During Vietnam, a memoir by Sidney Bailey Stockdale, on Thursday, May 25 at 7pm in the Coronado Library Winn Room.
“I really did suffer so much trauma when Dad was shot down,” said Sid. “I never could really put together a straight narrative of those years. I think I had defenses built up, and they were prohibiting me from accessing those hurtful memories.”
But Sid found hope in his mother’s dedication, light in his father’s grit, and stamina from the love and support of special friends.
“I think of my father, who was living literally in this horrific, torturous condition, and he was battling it every day,” said Sid. “And then I layer that next to my mom’s experience, and she knew what was going on with my father. She knew about the torture, but she couldn’t tell anyone. And that’s its own form of torture.”
Sid said that often the people who had it worst were the ones who were left at home. The prisoners knew what they were up against; they knew what their captors wanted. But their loved ones left at home…they were left to their imaginations.
He says that he and his mother never discussed what could be happening to his father as a prisoner.
“I didn’t want to talk to my mom about it, she had enough on her plate,” said Sid. “So, we just kind of kept a tight upper lip and hung in there, and kept working and kept hoping, it was a tough go.”
Sid said he was shocked when, as an adult, he learned that his mom had worked with Naval Intelligence, sending secretly coded letters to his father in prison. The practice required hours and hours of intensive work, and if Sybil made just one mistake, she could jumble the message, or worse yet, expose her husband to his captors.
Espionage was an offense punishable by death.
“It was a complete eye-opener,” said Sid. “It just blew me away.”
After witnessing the government’s handling of the POWs, Sybil also began organizing other POW wives and demanding change. This was in contrast to the government’s wish that the women “keep quiet” and not talk about their situation with anyone.
“Look at what she’s juggling,” said Sid. “It’s mind-blowing to me, quite frankly. I’m always in awe of my parents and what they were capable of managing between the two of them.”
Sid said that military spouses are the unsung heroes in a time of war and he’s grateful that people are starting to realize the important roles that spouses have played in those times of conflict.
“Especially in Coronado … when you think of it, military spouses run the town!” said Sid. “It’s exciting to know that, when its constructed, the League of Wives Memorial will be the first one in the nation in honor of military spouses.”
Sid says he worked on the book for about five years, and that writing his story was very emotional, but also healing.
“I wanted to revive my parents’ story that was told 40 years ago, and at the same time, tell my story, inside of that story,” said Sid. “And, to celebrate some of the people who were so helpful to me along the way.”
Central to his tale of survival is his experience at South Kent, an all-boys boarding school in Connecticut, that he started attending as a teenager. He said that although he had many friends, high school in Coronado was hard when everyone knew his personal struggles. At South Kent, the faculty and kids at the school were extremely supportive, and gave him room to be grow and evolve into an adult.
“There was a lot of joy that came along with being able to find myself when I went away to boarding school,” said Sid. “That was a tremendous turn in my life.”
But his most joyful memory, he said, is when he watched his dad walk off the plane on TV when was finally released from prison.
A tremendous sense of quiet joy rushed through my head, and I thought, there’s Dad, walking across the screen. There he is alive. And with a flick of a switch, some of my deepest fears began melting away.
“I don’t think anyone can really understand unless they had been through all that stuff that led up to it,” said Sid.
Sid said it was nothing short of amazing how his dad dealt with his return with his four sons, and that he developed personal relationships with all of them.
“It was really beautiful the way he managed it.”
Sid says he’s very happy with the way the book turned out and it accomplishes what he wanted to achieve: celebrating his parents and their story, and expressing gratitude along the way.
See link for more details on the book launch.