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Christmas celebration of US POWs in Hoa Lo prison through exhibition
Ngo Minh 22:12, 2023/12/10
The exhibit features war memorabilia, photographs, drawings, and documents depicting the lives of the American pilots held in Hoa Lo prison and their desire to end the war and return to their families.

Small bells with "Merry Christmas" written on them, Christmas trees and candy on the table... This is Christmas in Hoa Lo Prison, as painted by Air Force Lieutenant Colonel Hervey Studdiford Stockman, born in 1922.

The paintings Stockman made while imprisoned at Hoa Lo are featured in the "Sounds of War" exhibition organized by the Hoa Lo Prison Relics Board to commemorate the 51st anniversary of the "Victory of Dien Bien Phuin in the Air" in Hanoi in December 1972 and the 50th anniversary of the release of American pilots (1973-2023).

 Paintings by Air Force Lieutenant Colonel Hervey Studdiford Stockman on display.

The exhibit is designed to help the public better understand the ferocity of the US Air Force and Navy strategic bombing in the North; it recreates the daily life and work of Hanoi's army and people (late 1972) with the spirit of solidarity in fighting and serving to overcome loss and pain to achieve the victory of "Dien Bien Phu in the air."  

The exhibit also reflects the lives of the American pilots in Hoa Lo Prison and their desire to end the war and return to their families; the release of the American pilots 50 years ago; and the joint efforts of the governments and people of the two countries to overcome the aftermath of the war and build Vietnam-US relations.

Air Force Lieutenant Colonel Hervey Studdiford Stockman was one of the American soldiers jailed at Hoa Lo. The plane he was piloting was shot down in Bac Giang on June 11, 1967, and he was transferred to Hoa Lo prison in 1970.

 A visitor at the exhibition. Photo: Ngo Minh/The Hanoi Times

While in captivity, Stockman was given paper, pencils, and paints to draw to his liking. He compiled the paintings into a journal entitled "Odyssey, the Unfinished Expedition of Wellington Blackflye."

His paintings were used to decorate the walls of prison cells and hung during holidays and Tet (Lunar New Year).
If the figures in his paintings were not wearing prison uniforms - "American pilot's pajamas," as they call them - viewers would mistakenly think this was the Christmas atmosphere in any family.

This is how Thomas Eugene Wilber feels when he visits the exhibit. He understands because he is the son of US Air Force Lieutenant Colonel Walter Eugene Wilber, who was in Hoa Lo from 1968 to 1973.

"When my father was taken prisoner, I was only 12 years old. My family was a little worried at the time. But at the end of the year, he was able to send a message to his family via radio, wishing me a happy birthday and ending with the three words, 'I am fine,'" Thomas told The Hanoi Times.

To this day, Thomas keeps the recording on his phone and plays it often.

When he first came to Vietnam in 2014, Thomas chose Hoa Lo Relic as the first place to visit. He was stunned and nearly burst into tears when he saw a picture in the exhibit area of Lieutenant Colonel Walter Eugene Wilber receiving parcels sent from the US.

 American pilots decorated a Christmas tree at Hoa Lo. File Photo 

"This was a package I packed when I was 12 years old. It contains the love of me and my family for my father. When I was 17, we welcomed him back in good health. This is a happiness I will never forget. Our family is grateful to the Vietnamese people for their kind treatment of American pilots," Thomas said.

Thomas said he had been to Hoa Lo 43 times. His father's letters to his two sons in America gave them a broader view of Vietnam and human love. These beautiful things make Thomas want to return to Vietnam and Hoa Lo Prison.

"It was here that my father was once arrested, but it was from here that my father felt the warmth and sincerity of the Vietnamese people and had a clearer view of the war, from which he decided to raise his voice against the war in Vietnam," Thomas said.

The exhibition will run until June 30, 2024, at Hoa Lo Prison Relics, Hoa Lo Street, Hoan Kiem, Hanoi.

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