WILBER, WALTER EUGENE "Gene"
Name: Walter Eugene Wilber
Branch/Rank: UNITED STATES NAVY/O5
Date of Birth:
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):
Aircraft/Vehicle/Ground: F4J #155548
Other Personnel in Incident: RUPINSKY, Bernard Francis
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 1999.
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
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.... "
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