Saturday, July 13, 2024

The League of Wives Memorial ~ A Beautiful Tribute to Courageous Women

The League of Wives Memorial was unveiled in Coronado's Star Park on Friday, June 21, 2024.

League ladies look on as Pat Mearns has an emotional moment after the unveiling of the League of Wives Memorial. Pat and Sybil Stockdale were original members of the League of Wives and Pat immediately walked to hold Sybil’s hand.

The League of Wives Memorial dedication ceremony, held in Coronado’s Star Park on June 21, honored the courageous efforts of military spouses advocating for better treatment and ultimately the return of POW / MIA service members from Vietnam. Eleven of the original League Ladies, many of whom still live in Coronado, joined almost 600 attendees for the unveiling of the sculpture.

Eleven of the original League Ladies attended the dedication ceremony at Star Park June 21.

The ceremony followed traditional military protocol starting with parading of the colors and singing of the National Anthem by Coronado Police Officer Grace Del Bagno.

Alexia Palacios Peters provides opening remarks.

Alexia Palacios Peters, Co-Chair of the League of Wives Memorial Project provided opening remarks, saying, “Today is a momentous occasion. Today we honor the POW and MIA spouses of the Vietnam war. The story of the League of Wives began here on Coronado by a group of women who decided to break their silence by publicizing the imprisonment of their husbands and took their fight to Washington and beyond to demand the humane treatment of the POWs and their safe return. Their advocacy eventually helped contribute to the release of 591 POWs. A lesser-known fact regarding the League of Wives is that their organization created the POW flag flown today.” Palacios Peters also talked of the intentional decision to place the memorial in Coronado, where the movement began in Sybil Stockdale’s home, and where her legacy continues to inspire military spouses to this day.

Mayor Richard Bailey said, “Today, we gather to pay tribute to a group of extraordinary women whose courage, determination, and unwavering spirit have left an indelible mark on our community and our nation’s history… In the face of unimaginable uncertainty and heartache, these women refused to remain silent. Instead, they organized, they advocated, and they fought tirelessly for the return of their husbands. Their story is one of perseverance and unity, a testament to the power of love and the enduring human spirit… We celebrate their legacy with this magnificent statue, a symbol of their strength and sacrifice. It stands not just as a reminder of their fight, but as an inspiration to future generations. The statue will serve as a symbol of hope, courage, and unity, values that the League of Wives embodied so profoundly.”

Dr. Christina Slentz walks up to the pedestal to read the inscription on the memorial.

Co-Chair of League of Wives Memorial Project, Dr. Christina Slentz said, “Since the beginning of time, women, historically, have bonded together and supported each other through the hardships of war and conflict on the home front. And while this has always required great strength and courage, the women we honor today did more than survive. These ladies, seated in the front row here, never set out to transform the role of the military spouse. They simply saw injustice and inhumanity, and they decided to act, to do the right thing.”

Slentz went on to describe the sculpture and its meaning saying, “When you finally step up to this memorial, you will see the women bonded together, physically touching each other. They are climbing and moving forward with a graceful resolve that cannot be easily dismissed. Sybil Stockdale, the founder of the League of Wives, leads the other women while her steady gaze is on the horizon, the source of her relentless determination. The bow at the waist of her famed pink suit hints at the intestinal fortitude and willingness to ‘go with her gut’ as she and her fellow League Ladies navigated the uncharted waters of military spouse activism… The four ladies in our memorial echo these facets of the league of wives, who eventually grew into the National League of Families of Prisoners and Missing in Southeast Asia. Importantly, at the rear of the memorial, there is space for one more figure. As our esteemed artists, Christopher Slatoff and Elisabeth Frederickson Pollnow explained, typically creative arrangements should consist of an odd number, but this design is no mistake. This space represents the ‘fifth person.’ This might be the Community of Coronado that rallied around these women during their struggle. This space quietly honors those who are missing, who did not come home, and are not with us today. Finally, this space beckons us today and those in the future to learn the story of the League of Wives and always remember their service to our country, so that we too might be inspired to take action and do the right thing in the face of injustice and inhumanity.”

The program included historical photos of the League of Wives.

The history shared during the ceremony was a captivating lesson for the attendees. As the program progressed, tears were shed as remarks came from those profoundly affected by the League of Wives, POW/MIA children and spouses took to the podium to share their stories.

Sid Stockdale shares memories of the beginning of the League of Wives movement that began in his home when he was just 12 years old.

Sid and Taylor Stockdale, the children of Sybil and Vice Admiral James Stockdale, shared heartfelt stories of their childhood and how their mother’s strength, courage and love shaped their lives. Twice, League Lady Maryanne “Pat” Mearns stood up and walked to the stage to hug speakers. The emotion among the crowd was palpable during the stories of the young boys whose father was shot down over Vietnam and imprisoned as a POW for 7 1/2 years. Taylor Stockdale was just three years old when his father was shot down and spoke of his mother’s incredible ability to give him a stable, secure and normal childhood, despite the difficult situation they were facing. “My Mom was the reason for that [my normal childhood], protecting her kids and our memories in the midst of such stressful and emotional times.”

He talked of how he saw both sides of his mother, one of a nurturing mother who made life normal for her children and another as a leader of a movement across the nation. Taylor said, “She was a hero, she was a leader and she was smack right in the middle of where it mattered most. Looking back on it now, I realize what it took for her to put herself on the national and international stage, and to lead her sisters in arms through one of the most harrowing episodes American history… She had a balance of hope and reality, that inner strength and that brave calming spirit that made her the effective leader she was.  She would be so proud of this statue and how it will inspire others in future generations who will also be in the middle of when it matters most.”

The final speakers were two of the original League Ladies, POW wife Kathy Ensch and MIA wife Regina Tromp Bidstrup. Kathy, wife of Captain Jack Ensch who was first designated as Missing in Action for four months until at Christmas she got the call that he was redesignated as a Prisoner of War, spoke first. Kathy shared that Jack had done four deployments before being shot down and so she joined the movement much later than the founders, and she shared her love and respect for them. Kathy said, “By the time I got involved they had already done their work and accomplished a great deal, and changed things. What they did was raise the awareness of the American Public so that they knew what was going on in Hanoi and in Vietnam… I am forever grateful to these ladies, they are my heroes, I am not sure if they hadn’t done what they did, if my husband would be here today.” Kathy closed by thanking the League Ladies, the League of Wives Memorial Project team, and all those that supported the efforts to bring this sculpture to Star Park.

The League Ladies gather around for the unveiling of the memorial.

The ceremony ended with the unveiling of the sculpture. All eleven League Ladies made their way to the memorial and grabbed a pink ribbon to pull off the cover. The Navy Band Southwest played music as the sculpture was revealed and the audience stood and clapped. There were people of all ages, from babies and toddlers to octogenarians, all who came together to celebrate the legacy of the League of Wives. The statue will be an enduring symbol in Star Park, honoring all military spouses, especially those that paved the way for future generations.

View the city’s recording of the event here:

 



Jeannie Groeneveld
Jeannie Groeneveld
Jeannie is a retired Naval Aviator and Public Affairs Officer whose post-Navy career includes freelance writing, PR Consulting and a two year stint as the San Diego Padres Military Affairs Advisor. Having been stationed in various parts of the country including Washington D.C., Florida and Hawaii, Jeannie appreciates how amazing the Coronado community is and loves the experience her children have had growing up here. Jeannie earned her BS in Marine Biology from Auburn University, her MS in Global Leadership from the University of San Diego and her MA in Communication and Media Relations at San Diego State University. A life-long learner and avid traveler Jeannie enjoys writing travel pieces, Navy stories and anything else that will broaden her perspective. When she is not working you will find her watching her boys play sports, walking Odin at dog beach, hiking, playing beach volleyball or spending time with the family.Have news to share? Send tips, story ideas or letters to the editor to: [email protected]

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