IN LOVE AND WAR: The Story of a Family's Ordeal and Sacrifice During the Vietnam War by Jim & Sybil Stockdale Stockdale

IN LOVE AND WAR: The Story of a Family's Ordeal and Sacrifice During the Vietnam War

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In 1965 career Navy man Jim Stockdale, 41, fighter-pilot and commander of a bomber-squad in Vietnam, was shot down over North Vietnam, captured, and imprisoned in and around Hanoi till 1973. Here, then, he describes those grisly years as a POW--while, in alternating chapters, his wife Sybil narrates her reactions to the news about Jim and her battle with Washington bureaucrats over the POW situation. Powerful material? Unquestionably. Unfortunately, however, the impact is often diffused in this overlong, sometimes over-histrionic book--beginning with 100 pages of background: childhood/courtship memoirs; Navy career; and Jim's 1964 involvement (largely for air-war buffs only) in the Tonkin Gulf action, which leaves him with some military-secrets to keep and lots of anger (""those sleazy bastards"") at Washington pussy-footing. Then comes the shootdown; Jim is injured in the crash, beaten by local civilians, taken to a series of military prisons--where physical/psychic tortures (solitary confinement, shackling, ""roping"") are used to force the POWs into writing or speaking Hanoi propaganda. Jim gives in at first. (""The agony I felt in my heart that night was worse than any that could have been generated by physical restraining equipment."") But thereafter he uses tricks and diversions to avoid submission and to undermine prison discipline--leading his fellow POWs (via wall-tapped messages), even cutting and beating himself. (""Chop chop chop chop chop on the left wrist. Blood! Running all down my hand and onto the floor!"") Meanwhile, wife Sybil--mother of four--is helping the government smuggle information to (and from) Jim in their letters; but she's increasingly angry about the reluctance of Averell Harriman and others to a) publicize Vietnam's violations of Geneva Convention rules for POWs, or b) actively seek the POWs' release. So she helps to form the League of POW Wives, talks directly to Haig and Kissinger, and eventually gets some of what she wants from President Nixon in '69--though it won't be until '73 that negotiations bring the POWs home. The writing is lackluster (especially when Jim goes in for pulp-melodrama prose); the detailing is unselective; and the 512-page, back-and-forth format diminishes tension. But military-exploit readers will find lots of steely heroism here--while probably skipping over the Sybil chapters.

Pub Date: Sept. 26th, 1984
Publisher: Harper & Row