Reflection on Bob Dole’s efforts on behalf of American prisoners of war and missing persons in Vietnam

When Bob Dole came to the Senate in 1969, he had already been in Washington’s political arena for years. A grievously wounded veteran of World War II, he had a special place in his heart for veterans. Vietnam War as well as their families on the home front. Under President Lyndon Johnson, the POW / MIA couple were ordered to “stay silent” about their loved ones, lest they disturb the North Vietnamese and hamper government negotiations. Ultimately, that silence was killing the captured US servicemen – and Bob Dole stepped in to change that.

When I interviewed Senator Dole in 2016, he visibly bristled at the memory of the treatment inflicted on the wives and families of POWs and MIAs during the Johnson administration. Dole asserted that even in 1969, “no one [in the House or Senate] knew what a prisoner of war or even an MIA is has been. “Shocked by the ignorance or, in some cases, the deliberate denial of his fellow Congressmen, he vowed to bring more attention to the prisoner of war / MIA issue. And he teamed up with a new administration and a powerful group of unlikely allies.

With the backing and backing of the Nixon administration, Dole called attention to the National League of Families for American and Missing POWs in Southeast Asia, led by POW wives Sybil Stockdale, Jane Denton, Andrea Rander and many more.

Working with Stockdale, his League of Wives, and the Nixon administration, Dole filled the DAR Constitution Hall with over 3,000 supporters on May 1, 1970, at the inaugural meeting of the National League of Families. Dole then worked with President Nixon to create a platform of support the ladies can stand on.

And it was only then that the prisoner of war / MIA problem became one of the few unifying causes during one of the most controversial eras in American history. There is no doubt that Senator Dole has helped bring home the American prisoners of war and has helped to account for those who are missing.

Unlike his work on the Americans with Disabilities Act and his tireless defense of the WWII Memorial, Dole’s fight on behalf of American prisoners of war and MIAs and their families during the Vietnam War is now fallen into the darkest recesses of American consciousness. .

But the senator’s death earlier this month at the age of 98 gives us a moment of reflection to highlight some of his lesser-known efforts. Dole’s work with Sybil Stockdale and his National League reflects many of his best traits: his fighting spirit, his ability to collaborate across the political aisle to achieve a goal, and his work on behalf of those left behind or excluded. of traditional society. Five hundred and ninety-one of these soldiers returned home at the end of the war thanks to the efforts of the National League supported and amplified by Senator Dole and the Nixon administration.

While our American flag was at half mast for Senator Dole last week, be sure to watch the flag fluttering next to it; the black and white POW / MIA flag reminds us “You are not forgotten”.

Like our prisoners of war, Senator Dole will not be forgotten.

Heath hardage leethe non-fiction narrative book, “The League of Wives: The untold story of the women who hired the US government to bring their husbands back from Vietnam“, was published by St. Martin’s Press in 2019. Actress Reese Witherspoon’s production company Hello Sunshine and Sony 3000 chose The League of Wives for a feature film. Her latest show was developed for the Senator Bob Dole and the Dole Institute of Politics is titled “The League of Wives: Defenders and Allies of Vietnamese POWs and Allies.” Heath’s new book published in 2024 by St. Martin’s Press is a biography of the First Lady, Pat Nixon.

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