On February 12, 1973, 116 American servicemen got off a plane at Clark Air Force Base in the Philippines — some carried on stretchers — after years in captivity in North Vietnam. Speaking for the other former POWs, Capt. Jeremiah Denton, later a U.S. senator from Alabama, expressed how “profoundly grateful we are to our commander-in-chief and to our nation for this day.”
It was not until months later, back home in this country, that the men learned of the role their own wives had played in securing their freedom. These women, among them Denton’s wife, worked behind the scenes, lobbying U.S. legislators, telling their stories to the press, and holding Hanoi accountable to the Geneva Convention in meetings with North Vietnamese officials in Paris.
Their story is told by Richmond native Heath Hardage Lee in her new book, “The League of Wives: The Untold Story of the Women Who Took on the President, the Pentagon and the Rest of the US Government to Bring Their Husbands Home.” This work of narrative nonfiction hasn’t even been published — the release date is April 2 — and Hollywood has already scooped it up.
Reese Witherspoon’s media company, Hello Sunshine, has picked up an option on the book, which the actress read in manuscript and decided the story deserves the big-screen treatment. And of course it does.
Beth Macy, a former Roanoke Times reporter who scored her own published hit with “Dopesick: Dealers, Doctors, and the Drug Company That Addicted America,” says that Lee’s book spotlights “1960s-era military wives who forge secret codes with bravery, chutzpah, and style.” Pop biographer Kitty Kelley says the women “epitomize heroism in high heels.”
“At Hello Sunshine, we strive to showcase brave, brilliant female characters, and the women of ‘League of Wives’ are all of that and more,” says Witherspoon, who will produce the movie. She’s eager to give audiences “a glimpse of this meaningful moment in American history,” and we’re eager to see it.
Lee, who now lives in Roanoke, is a museum curator as well as writer, and a traveling “League of Wives” exhibit opened last year at the Robert J. Dole Institute of Politics at the University of Kansas in Lawrence. The exhibit will move to the Virginia Museum of History and Culture in March, just before the book’s release. Lee deserves our thanks for telling this important story.
One of the book’s many heroines is the late, greatly missed Phyllis Galanti, wife of POW Paul Galanti, who, we are pleased to say, still lives among us here in Richmond.