WILBER, WALTER EUGENE "Gene" RIP 08 JULY 2015
Name: Walter Eugene Wilber Branch/Rank: UNITED STATES NAVY/O5 Unit: VF 102 Date of Birth: 17 JAN 1930 Home City of Record: MILLERTON PA Date of Loss: 16-June-68 Country of Loss: NORTH VIETNAM Loss Coordinates: 184800 North 1051700 East Status (in 1973): Category: Aircraft/Vehicle/Ground: F4J #155548 Missions: 20 Other Personnel in Incident: RUPINSKY, Bernard Francis Refno: 1209
Source: Compiled by P.O.W. NETWORK from one or more of the following: raw data from U.S. Government agency sources, correspondence with POW/MIA families, published sources, interviews and CACCF = Combined Action Combat Casualty File. Updated 2015.
REMARKS: 730212 RELEASED BY DRV INJURED
Senior Ranking Officer of squadron - accused of mutiny by Cmdr James Stockdale upon their release. Wilber said it was a matter of conscience.
The following is QUOTED directly from VOICES OF THE VIETNAM POWs, Witnesses to Their Flight, by Craig Howes. Pages 110 and 111. There are other mentions of Wilber in the book.
" ... The second senior collaborator, Navy Commander Walter Eugene Wilber, serves as P.O.W.'s sensitive liberal dupe. After his deeply traumatic June 1968 capture -- his crewman went down with the plane and Wilber himself probably suffered a stroke on the way to Hanoi - he spent the next twenty-one months awash in "the same endless flood of Propaganda that was poured through the radio speakers in all the prisoners' cells." Wilber was never abused, and countless POWs had endured the same flood. Wilber's collapse was therefore self-induced. He decided "to try to educate himself, to try to understand history that had landed him in a jail cell in Hanoi." Since "as prisoners of war, they remained at war on behalf of their government's policies and were, required to support these policies to whatever extent possible," most of the POWs felt that a Hanoi camp was the last place to rethink their politics. Wilber obviously disagreed. Even though "it never struck him that he never was given anything to read in support of the American intervention," after watching antiwar films and listening to Fulbright and Mansfield tapes, he concluded in 1969 that the war was illegal. As someone who also believed that "when he accepted his commission, he did not surrender his right to free speech," Wilber therefore began practicing civil disobedience in Hanoi - but against the POW command."
In the fall of 1970, Miller, Schweitzer, and four other isolated but well-treated junior officers were put together in the zoo. The other POWs called these model prisoners the "Outer Seven," and the group's dynamics were a parody of Camp Unity. Though Wilber was SRO, "he wanted no strong military organization." All problems "were to be resolved in democratic meetings." The senior men only took the lead in collaborating. During one interview, for instance, Wilber not only condemned the war, but suggested that most POWs had been treated as leniently as he had. The Camp Unity senior POWs nevertheless worked hard to contact and redeem these apparent traitors. Though Miller and Wilber refused to discuss their behavior, in mid-1971 the four junior Officers learned the camp policies and received the order to follow the Code. Eventually, these officers and Bob Schweitzer accepted amnesty and the Outer 7 turned into the Repentant Five and the Damned Two. Schweitzer's amnesty showed just how forgiving the senior command was. Though his broadcasts made him one of the most hated of all POWs, "Bob" actually reclaimed his rung in the hierarchy: "There being no question about the sincerity of Schweitzer's repentance and his determination to abide by the Plums, he was by the Wing leadership to be worthy of command."
The Damned Two were a different story. Wilber ignored the amnesty offer. Miller "did not feel that he had done anything requiring anyone's forgiveness, and was infuriated at what he conceived to be an attempt to bribe him." Both men vowed to "live by their own consciences" instead.
The Hanoi POWs confronted Miller and Wilber in August 1971, when acting Wing Commander Robinson Risner "initiated a dialogue" that was as spontaneous as an excommunication. After offering "a chance to rejoin the team," Risner advised them that they were being disloyal to their country, their services, and their fellow prisoners of war." He then "ordered them to abide by the Code of Conduct, and specifically to write nothing for their captors nor make any public appearances nor meet any delegations." Warning the men "that they, faced court-martial if they disobeyed his order," Risner then concluded by asking "whether or not they would comply." The men waffled. Wilber said "he would obey all legal military orders"; Miller said he was a true American and Christian who was certain "Risner did not mean to deprive him of his right of free speech." When Risner pressed for a simple "yes" or no," Miller and Wilber replied "that there was no simple yes or no answer," thus ending the dialogue. On August 11, Miller and Wilber were "relieved of military authority," and though P.O.W. mentions the flush toilets, aquariums, writing materials, vegetable gardens, and extra clothing and food that they received for their apostasy, and though Miller and Wilber themselves seemed to delight in mocking or tempting other POWs, most men avoided them like the devil.... "
==================================Date: Tue, 8 May 2012 17:45:02 -0500
As CDR Wilber and RIO Lt Rupinski split into a combat spread from their wingman Lt Brown, they were responding to the call of ‘Migs in the Air.” The expectation was that the North Vietnamese (or Russian Pilots) would be using a high / low tactic in a potential dogfight. The high Migs was on every radar scope in the theater while the low Migs was using terrain masking to hide his maneuver. Wilber was to take the high aircraft while Brown looked out for the low aircraft as it was expected to engage the most vulnerable aircraft in the flight. The Cruiser, USS St. Louis was patrolling in the Tonkin Gulf off the coast of North Vietnam. The St. Louis’s CIC was controlling the intercept. As the high MIg and the F-4J raced towards each other the St. Louis gave Wilber a reciprocal vector which caused him to think that the Mig had somehow gone past him. Wilbur pancaked over to pursue the Mig which in fact was still heading towards him. The high Mig launched an air to air Atoll missile which went right up one of the hot F-4’s engines. Wingman Brown saw Wilbur eject but no one came out the rear seat before the Phantom exploded. The minute Wilbur hit the ground he became a very valuable POW, squadron commanding officer and propaganda asset to the North Vietnamese.
At the time, I was the Strike Journalist aboard the AMERICA and a Syracuse University Degreed Journalism major. I knew both men during this deployment and the ’67 Med deployment. I never broke faith with these and my other POW brothers always keeping them in my prayers to this day.
Jim Harding, Navy Journalist, X Div. AMERICA
Captain Walter E. (Gene) Wilber, United
States Navy (retired),
entered into eternal rest on July 8, 2015 at his home under the care of his
Gene was born at Mt. Pisgah (East Troy, Pa.) on Jan. 17, 1930, the second son of Herbert Elwyn and Myra Losey Wilber. Gene was predeceased by his parents, and by his younger brother, Richard. He is survived by his wife of 62 and one half years, Jeanne Ayers Wilber.
Gene spent his young life working on various farms with his family throughout the Troy and Mansfield area, settling in Wells Township, Bradford County, Pa. He graduated from Troy High School where he and Jeanne had been classmates and best friends. After high school, Gene enlisted as an airman recruit in the United States Navy and was selected into the Naval Aviation Cadet (NAVCAD) program for flight training. Upon completion of flight training, Gene was commissioned as an ensign wearing the gold wings of a naval aviator. He completed advanced training and deployed to the Korean theater for the first of his combat tours, flying night attack in the A-1 (AD) Skyraider, as the youngest naval aviator in that war. Between deployments to Korea, Gene and Jeanne became engaged, and were married in Elmira, N.Y., on Dec. 27, 1952, beginning what would prove to be a storybook marriage — centered on their mutual Christian faith — that would grow even stronger in the face of unusual challenges. After a few short weeks together, Gene deployed again to Korea, returning after the nine month deployment in December 1953, reuniting with his wife, Jeanne, and two-week-old son, Bruce. The family later lived in Kingsville, Texas where Gene was a flight instructor and their second son, Thomas, was born. The young family next moved to Jacksonville, Fla., where Gene served in the Air Department on USS Essex (CV-9).
In 1959, during flight operations while Gene was on watch as flight deck officer on the Essex, a plane crashed into other parked planes, resulting in an immediate explosion and intense fire involving live ordnance. Gene extinguished the blazing clothing of one of the men in the vicinity of the burning airplanes by using his own body as a smothering blanket, and by removing and using some of his own clothing to put out the flames. He then went under one of the burning aircraft to assist an injured man to safety. For his conduct he was awarded the Navy and Marine Corps Medal for heroism. True to Gene's character was the fact that he never told his wife, Jeanne, so that she wouldn't worry. Jeanne first learned of his heroic actions at an award ceremony for Gene stateside, months after the incident happened. During another operational tour flying the F-8 Crusader with Fighter Squadron 11 (VF-11) deployed on the USS Franklin D. Roosevelt (CV-42) homeported in Jacksonville, Fla., their son Mark was born in 1960. While the family lived in Virginia Beach, Va., when Gene was a jet aircraft accident investigator, their daughter, Susan, was born in Norfolk in 1962.
Gene continued his exemplary service as a student at Army Command and General Staff College, returning to naval aviation billets including assignment as Executive Officer, and, on March 29, 1968, as Commanding Officer of Fighter Squadron 102 (VF-102) flying the F4-J Phantom II. In April of 1968, Gene's squadron deployed with Carrier Air Wing 6 on USS America (CV-66) for a WESTPAC deployment to operate in Yankee Station in the Tonkin Gulf off the coast of North Vietnam. It was during the ship's first line period that, while engaging the enemy as combat air patrol for fleet defense, Gene's plane was shot down on June 16, 1968, resulting in the death of Gene's friend and radar intercept officer, Bernie Rupinski. Gene ejected less than two seconds before the plane hit the ground, beginning an arduous period of four years and eight months of captivity in Hoa Lo Prison in Hanoi, from which Gene was released on Feb. 12, 1973, returning to his family and taking up residence at his farm in Pennsylvania where he lived for the rest of his life.
After retiring from the Navy, having given more than 25 years of military service to his country that he dearly loved, he transitioned to a career as farmer, air charter pilot, and supporter to Jeanne with her quilt business, the Strawberry Patch Calico Shop, for many enjoyable years. Over these years he was a member of the board of the Troy Area School District, the advisory board of Family Life Network, and was a devoted member and deacon of Austinville Union Church. In his later years Gene remained active with outdoor work, always ready to stop his tasks and lend a helping hand to neighbor, friend or stranger, often interrupting his garden work to wave at passersby. Along with Jeanne, family was paramount for Gene, and together they would prepare frequent meals at their home for their four children, 20 grandchildren, and 10 great-grandchildren and any guests they would bring along. Gene brought guidance, compassion, laughter and love to his many generations. The core of his heart belonged to Christ, and he was a shining example of how to demonstrate God's love.
In addition to his wife Jeanne, Gene is also survived by his older brother Leslie, his sister-in-law Dorothy Wilber and his younger sister Beverly Evans (Harland); children, Bruce, Thomas (Linda), Mark (Rebecca) and Susan Efthimiou (Marcus); grandchildren, John (Kristin), Joe (Sony), Summer Berry (Mat), Matthew, Chris (Sara), Andrew, Mattea, Isaac, Maryah, Misha, and Sanna, Rachael Stock (Mitch), Daniel (Hanna) Efthimiou, and Anna, Mikaela, Abram, Miina, Emma, Noah, and Isaiah Efthimiou; great-grandchildren Cole, Luke and Sienna Berry; Wes, Abriana, and John Michael Wilber Jr.; Owen and Grace Stock; Audrick Wilber; and unborn baby girl, Wilber (Joe and Sony); and many, many devoted and beloved nieces and nephews.
He will be sorely missed by his devoted family, and yet they rejoice that Gene has found peace in his heavenly home. Well done, our kind and gentle hero.
A celebration of Gene's life will be held beginning with visitation and viewing from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m., on Tuesday, July 14, 2015, at Austinville Union Church, followed by a funeral service led by the Reverend Ken Marple (Gene's pastor for over 35 years). Committal will be at Job's Corners Cemetery at 12:30 p.m. with full military honors, followed by a luncheon reception at Austinville Union Church. Flowers will be provided by the family. In lieu of flowers, memorial gifts may be made to Austinville Union Church in Gene's memory, or, to continue Gene's interest in the identification and recovery of remains of military personnel lost in action, including his friend, Bernie, contributions may be made to Servicemember Recovery Foundation, Post Office Box 82, Mansfield, PA 16933-0082.
Arrangements have been entrusted to Olthof Funeral Home. Gene's guestbook may be signed in obituaries at www.olthof.com. - See more at: http://www.legacy.com/obituaries/thedailyreview/obituary.aspx?page=lifestory&pid=175276468#sthash.d1GFaNHY.dpuf