why the roses?
We invite you to join hundreds of others in showing your support for The League of Wives Memorial Project.
"Soak any picture with a rose in it!”
A Tale of Espionage and Hope
If you think the rose theme accompanying our League of Wives Memorial Project is simply decorative, think again! Even lesser known than the League of Wives story of going public to fight for the safe return of the Vietnam War prisoners is the story of a few wives, who secretly entered into the classified world of intelligence collection efforts aimed at bringing their beloved Service Members home.
Demonstrating nerves of steel to rival a jet pilot, these ladies calculated the high risk to their husbands’ lives if caught in the act of espionage against the enormous value of gathering critical information about the prison camp and those within its walls. If their husbands were caught, they would certainly face severe torture and the strong possibility of execution. If the wives failed to engage, few other pathways of communication were available for US intelligence entities to pursue.
Taking a cue from her husband, Jim Stockdale, who disguised fellow prisoner names as “old football mates” in his first letter home, Sybil Stockdale decided to take this gamble. With the help of naval intelligence officer Bob Boroughs, she managed to compel her husband to immerse a special polaroid photograph in liquid—first by describing the pictured, unknown, older woman on the beach as his mother, then by offering a very uncharacteristic description of her behavior and suggesting Jim’s mother needed a “good soak.” As Jim’s mother was NOT one for swimming, Jim finally came to the conclusion that there was more to Sybil’s story. He soaked the photograph and discovered a type of carbon paper designed to produce hidden messages within the polaroid.
In their co-authored book, In Love and War, Jim wrote of the new hope awakened within him at this discovery: It takes me a while to realize what a whole new world has just opened up. This [signal] was targeted right to me, which means they have confidence that I can get out information…I can’t wait to get this news through the wall [of communications between POWs]. Jim took phrase "soak any picture with a rose in it" as a message that needed to get out to all hands (Stockdale and Stockdale, 1990, 196).
Thus, roses became the signal by which prisoners were cued to look for hidden messaging.