Hanoi Hilton artifacts make you think

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Column by Jim Clark

Sometimes, visiting some of the activities in Ocala makes you start thinking about some serious things. That was the case over the weekend when I went to Marion Woods to view a display connected to a Vietnam War prison, dubbed the “Hanoi Hilton.”
Back in the 1960s, I guess I was one of the lucky ones. Because I was married and later, because I had a daughter, I didn't get drafted. I went as far as a pre-induction physical, and they made note of my allergies and hay fever, but I never heard anything again.
I did, however, lose a couple of friends, Frank Campeau of Bergenfield, N.J.,and John Kapeluck of Cresskill, N.J. John died in combat, and Frank died on a shipboard fire just off the coast of Vietnam.There may have been more school mates that I don't know about.
Like everyone else, I heard about the horrors of the war, both from a combat perspective and a prisoner of war view. So I was drawn to the display last weekend.
There weren't that many artifacts, but two of them stood out.
One was a salvaged door to a cell, with a small, barred window. You got an idea how poor a view these prisoners had.
The other was really brutal. It was a lead item that attached to a piece of concrete, and it had curves in it where a pair of legs, small legs, would be anchored to that concrete.
There were many pictures on display at this event over the Veterans Day weekend, and one of them just showed a pair of legs being shackled down by that piece of lead. It made you cringe when you looked at it. That meant that those prisoners were lying on “concrete beds” on their backs while being held.
There were a lot of other pictures, a map showing the location of the prison, and an aerial view of the Hanoi buildings.
A lot of soldiers who came back from Vietnam weren't treated very well by the average citizens of this country. It's too bad this display wasn't available in the late 1960s and early 1970s. It would have showed, much more than words, how cruel the North Vietnamese, and possibly the Red Chinese, were in their treatment of their prisoners.
The display was courtesy of an unnamed man from Jacksonville who obtained the artifacts and transported them himself to the display site in southeastern Ocala. He wants his privacy, but was willing to make the display available to the public.
If it ever comes back to this area, we'll make sure that we notify the public. It's something you shouldn't miss.

Jim Clark is editor of the South Marion Citizen. He can be reached at 352-854-3986 or at editor@smcitizen.com.