SAN DIEGO (KGTV) — For the past two years, a San Diego group has been working to create a memorial that honors the spouses of veterans from the Vietnam War.
“The families at home sacrifice a lot," shared Kalee Thomas. "And I think having a memorial that honors the wives, the spouses in this case, would be really incredible.”
The League of Wives Memorial Project came about after the release of a 2019 book that described the original 'League of Wives', which got started right in the heart of Coronado.
Thomas, with tears in her eyes, said: “My father will always say the thing that he missed the most in Vietnam was his freedom."
Thomas comes from a long line of family members who have served since the Civil War. Thomas herself is a Navy Veteran. Her husband is a Commanding Officer in the Navy and is currently deployed.
Thomas' father was a Navy pilot during the Vietnam War. “My father was a Prisoner of War in Vietnam for seven and a half years," she shared. "He came home on the Freedom Flight on February 12 of 1973. My father will always say, he credits coming home to both Jim and Sybil.”
Admiral James Stockdale, also known as Jim, served alongside Kalee's father. But it was his wife, Sybil Stockdale who pioneered a movement that was informally called the 'League of Wives.'
What started as a support group for the wives of those overseas quickly turned into a national movement to help remind policymakers that those serving were not just fighting to protect. But that the men serving were also husbands and fathers to families back home.
Co-Chair of the League of Wives Memorial Project, Christina Slentz, explained: “I think largely thanks to the support that they received in their local communities, they were able to do more than just survive, they were able to thrive and take action.”
Actions such as demanding better treatment for their POW husbands, and accountability by the federal government. Their efforts lead to the release of 591 prisoners of war, one of whom was Thomas' father.
“I was just really touched with how these women came together out of love for their husbands, a desire to make their families whole again," explained Kalee. "This went way beyond tea parties or ladies luncheons. They had work to do, and they really had to step into a role that was previously their husband's position.”
It is a situation that for many spouses, is still the case today.
This new generation of military spouses and families, who have created the League of Wives Memorial Project hope that by creating a memorial they will not only keep the original ladies' stories alive but be a reminder of the important role family continues to play for those in the armed forces.
“They are amazing, energetic, strong, they have stories that are filled with some really serious struggle, the way that women experienced a lot of change between 1965 to 1973 is really powerful to hear," shared Slentz about the remaining women for the League of Wives.
"But also hearing the richness of their friendship and incomparable bond that they shared, which connects them still today.”
The project currently has over 1,000 signatures. The League of Wives Memorial Project, which is working on becoming a non-profit, is now looking for pledges.
Slentz hoped that on the 50th anniversary, in 2023, that a memorial could be a permanent fixture in Coronado.
If this memorial were to be erected, it would be the first memorial in the entire country that honors military spouses.
If you would like to learn more, you can visit the League of Wives Memorial Project website.