DES MOINES, Iowa — At the 2022 Vietnam Veterans Recognition there was a speaker who told a story about some unsung heroes of the War in Vietnam.
“The National League of POW-MIA families I think that it was Southeast Asia, a national organization was formed by the wives of American POWs MIAs,” said Dan Gannon, a Vietnam Veteran who organized the recognition event. “Through this extremely important advocacy group of women working tirelessly and through these efforts ultimately resulted in the release get this in the release of 591 prisoners of war.”
Heath Hardage Lee is an author who wrote the story called “League of Wives,” on women who lobbied for their husbands’ release.
“I told the story of the courageous wives of Vietnam war prisoners of war and missing in action and about all these women faced to free there in prison husbands and to account for the missing serviceman,” said Lee. “Men who just six years earlier had been high flying Navy and Air Force pilots, or were carried off of a huge military transport plane at Clark Airbase in the Philippines these American servicemen had endured years of brutal torture they were kept shackled and starving in solitary confinement in rat-infested, mosquito-laden prisons the worst of which was known as the Hanoi Hilton.”
The women had been told to keep quiet and not tell anyone about their missing loved ones. Some were even presumed to be dead before it was learned they were in prison. The Lyndon Johnson administration just wanted them to let officials handle the situation. In time the women approached a new president, Richard Nixon. They began a public campaign event by writing letters to North Vietnam.
“These exemplary women should be proclaimed and in all of our history books,” said Lee. “It took fearless military wives willing to question authority to help rescue our Vietnam war servicemen and demand accountability for those missing in action.”
Lee has a display of this “League of Wives” effort at the Iowa Gold Star Museum this summer. For six years Lee lived in Des Moines, and served as a docent at the Des Moines Art Center.