Viet Nam News
HÀ NỘI — Many years after being released from Hỏa Lò Prison, US veteran Walter Eugene Wilber still felt grateful to the Việt Nam Government for his good treatment. He always wanted to visit Việt Nam and the prison once again, but never got to do so.
Yesterday, Thomas Eugene Wilber executed his father’s wishes and presented items related to US Navy Captain Walter Eugene Wilber to Hỏa Lò Prison in Hà Nội.
During nearly five years of imprisonment, Capt Wilber was always treated well and he appreciated that, his son said. He actively joined the antiwar movement when he was set free.
When Capt Wilber returned to the US, Pennsylvania’s Star Gazette newspaper of February 23, 1973 issued a special edition to welcome him, with a series of stories entitled “Capt Wilber: Still Relaxed, Easy-going, Happy, Cool”.
Wilber told the newspaper that “he was never tortured and his food and water were just as good as that consumed by the civilians outside the walls of the prison.”
The newspaper was among the items Thomas Wilber presented to Hỏa Lò Prison Historical Relic’s management board.
“I look forward to how these items and others to come will be used to show another dimension to the narrative of history here in Hỏa Lò,” said Thomas.
“After four years and eight months, he was returned healthy and happy to our family. We all felt grateful for that.”
“My father was provided with food, clothing, shelter and medical care during his time in Hà Nội. He believed that he was treated well, especially considering the difficult condition of the Vietnamese people during wartime.”
Items presented by Thomas Wilber. — VNS Photo Minh Thu
Walter Wilber grew up on a farm and joined the Navy in 1948 when he was 18 because he was told he would be able to fly airplanes. “He wanted to fly,” said Thomas.
He became a naval aviator and flew many types of airplanes and became commanding officer of a flighter squadron. He was shot down on June 16, 1968 over the central province of Nghệ An. His parachute landed in Thanh Chương District. Several days later, he arrived at Hỏa Lò Prison.
One of the items presented at Hỏa Lò is the last letter written by Capt Wilber on June 15, 1968 to wish Thomas a happy 13th birthday. He posted the letter and on June 16, he was shot down.
“Two weeks after, I received the letter,” said Thomas.
“It’s very important to me because although he didn’t know when he wrote it that he would be in captivity and be gone from home for nearly five years, he told me to continue to be helpful to my mother ‘during the sad time’.”
“He remained both a true patriot of his country and a firm believer that the war in Việt Nam was wrong, all of his life,” he said.
Nguyễn Thị Bích Thủy, head of the management board, said she expected that Thomas Wilber would inspire other organisations and individuals to donate war memorabilia and to spread the truth of the Việt Nam War.
“Hỏa Lò receives many visitors everyday who want to understand the Việt Nam War,” she said.
“These items presented by Thomas Wilver tell a story that will touch people’s hearts. We will display them in the near future.” — VNS