In Love and War (1987)

 

 

 

 

 

Director:     Paul Aaron. 

Starring:     Jane Alexander (Sybil Stockdale),  James Woods (James B. 'Jim' Stockdale),  Concetta Tomei (Doyen Salsig),  Richard McKenzie (Boroughs),  James Pax (Rabbit),  Haing S. Ngor (Major Bui),  Jon Cedar (Bud Salsig),  Sally Klein (Allison Decker),  Stephen Dorff (Stan age 9),  Lillian Lehman (News Anchorwoman),  Lou Fant (Sybil's Father),  Leo Geter (Mike Haggerty),  Raymond Ma (Pig Eye),  Steven Vincent Leigh (Big Ugh),  James Lashly (Chaplain).

US Navy Commander James Stockdale's 8 year imprisonment in North Vietnam

 

 

Spoiler Warning:

Sybil Stockdale waits in the psychiatrist's waiting room for the doctor.  She's a bit nervous.  The doctor invites her into his office and she starts telling the doctor why she's here. 

Flashback.  She says she loves being married to a military officer.  And she never thought that he might die. 

It all began in the summer of 1964.  James B. 'Jim' Stockdale, her husband, was the squadron commander on the USS Ticonderoga.  On August 4th, they were off the coast of Vietnam, the Gulf of Tonkin.  The skies are dark, but Jim can see the U. S. ships and their wakes.  What he can't see are any North Vietnamese P.T. boats, but the fellow on the radio from the USS Maddox  keeps insisting that the enemy boat are in the area and a torpedo's headed right toward them.  Jim keeps repeating that he sees no enemy boats around the US ships. 

When Jim is back on the aircraft it sees that everyone else is sleeping.  He complains to his fellow officers that there was nothing out there.  He's told that it seems the man on the radio was and over eager-beaver, and he is now saying that he doesn't think he saw anything really.  Jim is disgusted, but he does say to make sure to tell Washington that there was nothing out there. 

Jim is sleeping when he is awakened.  The messenger says that Washington has decided to strike back at the North Vietnamese for the attack on the Maddox.  The captain wants Jim to lead the main strike on the oil storage facilities. 

President LBJ talks on the television to the American people about the air strikes at North Vietnam. 

Sybil is playing with her boys at the beach.  A fellow navy wife comes over to Sybil to tell her that Jim called her on the telephone because he could not reach Sybil.  His message is that he will be waiting for her to pick him up at March Air Force base.  And he is leaving for Illinois tomorrow to see his father. 

Coronado, San Diego County, California.  Jim at home plays the piano and his wife and the boys dance around the living room. 

The next day Jim is in the hospital visiting his ill father.  His father is in bad shape and can't talk to his son.  Jim mentions that he is bothered by the United States going to war in Vietnam and he wishes dad could tell him something comforting as he used to do. 

Jim and the family bury Jim's father.

Tokyo, Japan, July, 1965.  He and his wife have their own private bath at a bath house.  Later they go to the airport.  Sybil is headed back home. 

Back to the present.  Sybil tells the psychiatrist that it was to be Jim's last cruise as a fighter pilot before going to Washington. 

Flashback, Gulf of Tonkin, September 1965.  Jim goes on a mission and fires some missiles at his targets, but they he is hit and calls out "May Day!" several times.  At home Sybil is putting the boys to bed.  Her food friend comes over with the news. 

Sybil talks to a Navy officer.  He gives her details on what happened.  He ejected from his plane around 1,000 feet, and was seen landing in a heavily populated area.  He will be listed as missing for now. 

Hoa Lo Prison, The "Hanoi Hilton", Hanoi, near the French Quarter, North Vietnam.  Jim was hurt in the left leg coming down and landing.  He uses a crutch to get around.  The guards often open him down to the ground to mess with him. 

The POWs communicate by Morse Code with each other.  They announce themselves by tapping out the popular saying:  "Shave and a hair cut --  two bits."  [The Vietnamese guards had a terrible time trying to get the code down right and use its successfully to talk to the pilots with Morse Code.]   

Major Bui interrogates Stockdale.  He tells Stockdale that he is guilty of crimes against humanity for hitting civilian targets.  Bui also says that they hand medical problems after the political problems are settled. 

At home Sybil breaks down crying.  She is under a lot of stress with four boys and no husband around. 

A young interrogator tells Jim that even Senator Fulbright [of Arkansas] says that America has a guilty conscious about the war in Vietnam.   The interrogator also says that they can't win the war on the battlefield, but they can win it on the streets of places like New York City. 

The Vietnamese now want Stockdale to sign an anti-American statement.  Stockdale refuses so he is tortured.  He soon has to submit because of the intense pain. 

The navy still has not told Mrs. Stockdale if she is going to receive her husband's paychecks.  She is really angry now at the navy.   She has four boys to feed and a mortgage to pay.

Back to the present.  Sybil tells the psychiatrist that it has been 8 months without hearing from her husband.  She would dream how he looked or looks in his dark blue uniform with the gold buttons. 

Flashback.  Sybil finally gets a letter from Jim.  She enjoys the letter, but there were many confusing thinks her husband said, such as "fry me a cookie  in a can of lard".  She gets a telephone call from Commander Barrows of Naval Intelligence, who says he would like her to come to Washington, D. C.

Washington, D. C., May, 1966, the Pentagon.  Commander Barrows tells Sybil that the confusing information is Jim's way of trying to gives them information without irritating his censors.  One of the messages was saying that Commander Henry Chadwick, listed as missing, is still alive and in Hanoi.  Barrows wants her to encourage her husband to send more of these confusing statements in his letters. 

Sybil's father says that he heard that the Vietnamese are going to try the POWs as war criminals.  Sybil tells him she had a dream where they executed her husband.

Jim gets two letters from his wife and two family photos.  Now it's Jim's turn to be confused by Sybil's strange sayings.  He is encouraged that his wife understood his code.  He writes back and Sybil is so relieved that he got her letters. 

Office of Naval Intelligence, San Diego, California.  Barrows tells Sybil that he promised her to always tell her the truth.  He leaves her with some document to read.  It's about the treatment of the POWs.  It decoded messages from Jim's letters.  "Experts in torture . .  . hand and leg irons . . . 16 hours a day."

Back to the present.  Sybil talks to the psychiatrist about how upset she was that her husband underwent so much torture.  Weeks and months went by without the navy saying anything about the mistreatment of the POWs.

Flashback.  Washington, D. C.  September, 1967.  Sybil speaks with Ambassador Harriman.  The ambassador says that he is not at liberty to give her any details on what the government is doing to help their POWs.  She says that it's time the public knew about the truth of the plight of the POWs. 

Jim gets a surprise.  A fellow prisoner is placed in his cell.  He's a very young man named Mike Haggerty. 

The POWs start to go on a hunger strike.  Mike tells Jim that he couldn't hold out to the torture.  Jim says he knows, he knows.  Nobody can outlast the torture.  Jim says they must band together and refuse to even be reasonable.  They must have their own criteria for what's right and wrong.   This will help them keep their self-respect. 

Stockdale refuses to write down all his bombing missions.  They takes him away.  In the courtyard, Stockdale shouts out to the other POWs in their cells:  "Stockdale headed for the Riviera."

Mike has to listen to the screams of the tottered men.  When Stockdale returns to his cell, he informs Mike that Paul Townsend is dead.  That upsets Mike who has to sit down. 

Sybil is upset over a letter from the navy congratulations on his promotion to be the captain of a ship.  She says to her friend:  "Don't they know where he is?  For God's sakes, does anyone care?"

February, 1969.  Sybil forms a group of wives of POWs to discuss common concerns and be supportive of each other.  Soon afterwards Sybil goes on television to say that their league wants President Nixon to denounce the North Vietnamese mistreatment of American POWs.  She is asked if she thinks her husband is being tortured.  She white lies and says:  no. 

According to the psychiatrist, Sybil's youngest son, Stan is doing poorly because he doesn't have a daddy or a mommy. 

The government finally says that the enemy is not treating their POWs humanely.  This makes Sybil happy.

Sybil goes to Paris.  North Vietnamese Embassy, Paris, France.  She can't get much help for the North Vietnamese. 

The Vietnamese jailors tells Stockdale that they want to take him downtown to answer questions at a press conference for foreign journalists.  Jim isn't going to cut.  He starts cutting his hair off, but is stopped.  He then beats himself in the face with a small stool, bloodying his face and upper lip. 

The women open up a national group in Washington, D. C. to keep the issue of the POWs in the news.  This was five years since it all began.  Mrs. Stockdale is front and center. 

Washington, D. C., April, 1971.  Living in Washington, D.C. far from California, Sybil is depressed and very exhausted.  Her boys don't have any real friends and she has no money to move back to California.  Her loyal friend speaks with her and tells her she wants Sybil to go see someone, because sometimes friends are not enough.  So Sybil starts seeing a psychiatrist.

Now catching up with the present.  Sybil goes to see the psychiatrist.

It's been six years of captivity for Stockdale.  The interrogator says he's sure that it's going to be a few years more.  One day he gets a prison note:  "Mike Haggerty is dead."  When Stockdale writes a message, he is caught in the act and punished.  When he is alone, he breaks a glass pane and gets a piece of glass and cuts his wrists to stop future interrogations. 

They bandage up the wrist wounds.  Major Bui tells Jim that there will be no more interrogations.  Jim is happy over his little victory.

A cease fire is called by President Nixon.  Peace is on the way.  60 days after the cease fire all POWs will be released. 

The POWs are released.  Jim's family see him on the television.  She then gets a phone call through to her husband.  Jim says he's proud of all the work she did trying to help the POWs.

On the front of the house, the family puts a a huge banner up welcoming the commander home from the war. 

Jim is united with his loved ones.

 

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