Giao lưu giữa đoàn của tổ chức "Cựu chiến binh vì Hoà Bình" (VFP) và Cựu chiến binh Việt Nam


 

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The exhibit you see in this room has special meaning to me because my father, Walter Eugene Wilber is featured in one of the photos here.

 

On June 16, 1968, flying off the aircraft carrier AMERICA on his twenty-first mission over North Vietnam, Dad parachuted from the spent hulk of his burning F-4J hit by a missile. He landed on the bank of a rice paddy in Nghe An Province. A week later, he was in Hanoi, beginning his 56 months of internment, the first 20 months living in solitary confinement at Hoa Lo Prison. He was 38 years old.

 

My father was born in rural Bradford County in north central Pennsylvania.  The son of sharecroppers, he joined the Navy in 1948 hoping he would be trained to fly. In his early twenties he made two deployments to Korea and continued to fly and deploy over the years. Always eager to do his job, Dad was confident in the Navy’s system of accountability for mission assignments and target choices, the chain of command that rose to the civilian leadership level of the President as Commander-in-Chief. “I was fighting for peace,” he would later remember.

 

However, in the mid 1960’s things began to change for him.

 

By the time my father deployed to Southeast Asia, he was well aware of the questions and criticisms mounting among American citizens and the calls to end the war. He listened to the critical words of Martin Luther King, Jr., who  in 1967 called for America to end the war.

 

In succession, he saw Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara inexplicably depart his post, he watched his Commander-in-Chief Lyndon Johnson “quit.”

 

Imprisoned in Hanoi, Dad had time to listen to his conscience. He thought through the things that he knew and examined them word by word: words from the United States Constitution, the Declaration of Independence, his King James Bible, the words of the commissioning oath to support and defend the Constitution of the United States. He wanted to make sure he was fulfilling the obligations inherent in those words.

 

The religious, conservative, right-leaning, career military officer that he was, Dad soon had worked through his own thoughts and concluded that the war was wrong: it was not declared through international or national protocols; it was being directed and sustained by a succession of executive administrations, not by legal declaration of Congress.

 

To support and defend the Constitution of the United States as best he could from his room in Hanoi, he decided to speak out. Through letters, taped broadcasts, and interviews, he called on Congress to stop the war, urged US citizens to voice their opinions, and exhorted all who might hear him to work for peace. On my 15th birthday in 1970, his taped voice, broadcast over Radio Hanoi, told me that I was “old enough now to work for peace.”

On February 12, 1973, my father left Hanoi with 115 other newly freed captives. Four days later my family and I greeted him at the Philadelphia Naval Hospital. Over the next few weeks and months, the state of our family would remain strong.

 

However, Dad’s story had challenged the “official story” of the POW experience. While other prisoners who had spoken out against the war accepted an “amnesty” when they recanted their antiwar statement just before they returned, Dad did not recant; moreover, he announced publicly that the statements he made while in captivity were voluntary.

 

That is when the real controversy began. A fellow returnee initiated formal charges for collaboration with the enemy against my father and one other returnee. The charges were later dropped, although Dad was prepared for the trial. He remained steadfast, however, certain that we never should have gone to Vietnam and that speaking out against the war had been the right thing to do. He remained steadfast in his personal values as well: religious, conservative, always believing in the higher principles that our country stood for. At 85, Dad died three years ago in Bradford County, Pennsylvania.

 

Now 50 years from the tumult of 1968 and 45 years from the signing of the Paris Peace Accords, we need to remember the dominating presence that the war in Vietnam had over people’s lives, and courage that it took to speak out for peace.

 

The  “voices of conscience” that came out of Hoa Lo prison have a special place in that story, a place that this Waging Peace exhibit will help restore to our memory of the war years.


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My name is Mike Sutherland, some of you might know of me as Mike Lindner. That is the name I had when I was a sailor in the U.S. Navy during the American War in Vietnam.

 

I never wanted and put myself in a situation where I would be forced to kill another human being or be killed. So, instead of waiting to be drafted into the Army, I joined the Navy.  I thought it was the patriotic thing to do.

 

Was this a just or legal war? I didn’t know, but I figured our government had already thought about that.

 

It didn’t take long after I came aboard the aircraft carrier USS Intrepid that I realized that being in the Navy wasn´t as honorable as I had been hoping.

 

At that time our ship was located in the gulf of Tonkin. I saw with my own eyes the enormous quantity of bombs that our planes hurled on the Vietnamese. The scene was staggering. I saw how the A1 and A4 jet fighter planes were continually taking off laden with bombs. At times they did not return.

 

All this caused me to think about the nature of the war. I understood that thousands of people were dying. These airplanes were wiping villages from the face of the earth, destroying cities, burning children with napalm.

 

This was really murder and impossible to justify.

 

I knew I was doing something terribly wrong on a daily basis and I could no longer shrug it off with the cliché: “I´m in the military just doing what I´m told”.  

 

Talking about desertion wasn’t something you talk about with just anyone. But in September of 1967 on our ship’s flight deck I met new friends who had the same thoughts in regards to the war and our participation in it. John Barilla, Rick Bailey (who by the way died some years ago) and Craig Anderson.

 

We finally came to the conclusion that staying in the military after knowing how we felt would be a crime against humanity!

 

So on October 23, 1967 while our ship was in Yosuko, Japan, the four of us changed into civilian clothers and took a train to Tokyo where we met with a Japanese Peace group. With their help we filmed a statement to be released to the press. Let me read you a few lines from our statement.

 

“We four -- Craig Anderson, John Barella, Richard Bailey and Michael Lindner -- are against all aggressive wars in general and are against the American aggression in Vietnam in 
particular. We oppose the continuing increase of military might of the USA in Vietnam and other countries of Southeast Asia.

 

“We consider it a crime for a technologically developed country to he engaged in the murder of civilians and to be destroying a small developing, agricultural country.

We believe that the Vietnamese people themselves should determine their own fate

We are In favor of the total withdrawal of all forces of the USA from Southeast Asia.”

 

When the filming was done we were able to board a ship heading to the USSR. Thus ensued a marvelous journey.

 

To relate that awesome journey would take up too much time here today but I need to say that it would not have been possible without all the help we received along the way, at every turn and every crossroad. In Japan, in Russia and in Sweden, good people helped to make it possible! All this help along the way felt good, like they were saying “You´re doing good, keep going!”   And we did!

 

But it wasn’t easy. We of course would feel the great distance from our families and friends at home and the loss of the social support that being at home would have meant. yet we felt we had no choice.  And so we wound up in Sweden.

 

Craig moved back to the states quite early and John went to Canada and started a new life there. Rick Bailey and I acclimatized to Sweden. It has been our home, along with a lot of other guys who refused to cooperate with the American War. Sweden is now where our wives and our kids and grandkids are. And, of course, we now have lots of friends there, too. It has been good.

 

  We, all of us here, have good reasons to be here today, in Vietnam, and we have every reason to believe that we are feeding a greater force which will give others the strength needed to help one another work against waging wars. We must instead  “Wage Peace”!
 
   
  Date 13/04/2018  

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