WATCH: Van Grubb Recalls Father Shot Down Over Vietnam, Mother Who Was Co-Creator of ‘You Are Not Forgotten’ POW/MIA Flag
By Steve Wilson // July 22, 2023
Remarkable Story of Patriotism, Heroism and Forgiveness: You Are Not Forgotten
WATCH: Steve Wilson sat down with Van Grubb, son of U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Wilmer Newell “Newk” Grubb and his wife Evelyn, and tells a remarkable story of patriotism, heroism and forgiveness. Van talks about his father Wilmer, who, on January 26, 1966, was shot down by antiaircraft artillery over North Vietnam. Evelyn became the national coordinator of the National League of Families in 1971 and oversaw the creation of the famous “You Are Not Forgotten” POW/MIA flag.
BREVARD COUNTY, FLORIDA – This is a story of patriotism, heroism, and forgiveness. U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Wilmer Newell “Newk” Grubb was a true American hero as he volunteered for the service during the Vietnam War and always wanted to be a pilot. For him, the Air Force was the place to be.
Grubb had the opportunity to leave the service after his first tour in Vietnam, but he chose to stay in. According to his son, Van Grubb, “They taught him to fly the most advanced aircraft at the time and that’s all he wanted to do.”
On January 26, 1966, Lt. Col. Grubb’s plane was shot down by antiaircraft artillery. Twenty days later there was a photo of Lt. Col. Grubb on the front page of the newspaper – he had been captured. That picture of Lt. Col. Grubb was shown for five years after he was captured to show the “humane” treatment that prisoners were receiving.
However, in 1974 when his remains were returned to the United States, and the family was told he died nine days after he was captured.
After his plane was shot down, there was an incredible amount of frustration with the lack of information the family received, especially his wife, Evelyn Grubb.
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According to Van Grubb, one of the “keystone moments” that got his mom involved with POW/MIA issues was when she had to go to Congress to ask for money that Lt. Col. Grubb had set aside to purchase a boat. She was trying to raise four kids on her own, and the money was needed.
She was asked by a congressman, “What have you done to deserve his pay?” That moment set things in motion for Evelyn Grubb to make a difference with POW/MIA on a national level.
In 1968, Sybil Stockdale, wife of former Vietnam POW and future vice-presidential candidate James Stockdale, invited Evelyn to join their organization, which campaigned for the families of Americans missing in Southeast Asia.
This organization eventually turned into the National League of Families. In 1971 Evelyn became the national coordinator, and according to Wikipedia, she “oversaw the creation of the famous “You Are Not Forgotten” POW/MIA flag.” According to Wikipedia, Evelyn was the “liaison to the White House, the United Nations and the Paris Peace Talks.”
Evelyn co-wrote the book “You Are Not Forgotten,” with Carol Jose.
According to Van Grubb, one of the reasons his mom wrote the book is because “she did not want the women who formed the League of Families to be forgotten.” Former Secretary of State and National Security Advisor Henry Kissinger called Evelyn, “one of the bravest women that he had ever had the pleasure of meeting.”
Evelyn died in 2005 before the book was published, but her co-writer made certain it was published. It was a few years after Evelyn’s passing that this story takes a unique turn.
Former North Vietnamese Soldier Travels Half Way Around the World to Pay Tribute
In Vietnam at the time of the war there was a family with four boys, two fought for North Vietnam and two fought for South Vietnam. This divided the family to a great extent. After the war, one of the brothers, My Pham Duc, from South Vietnam, was imprisoned for 10 years. After he was released from jail, he made his way to America.
After not seeing his brother for 25 years, My Pham Duc wanted to see his brother, former North Vietnamese soldier Du Pham Duc. So, the invitation was extended, and Du Pham Duc made the trip way halfway around the world to visit his brother.
When he arrived, Du Pham Duc was asked what he wanted to do in America he said, “I want to find Grubb.” They were all surprised, thinking that he could not have known anyone in America.
However, Du Pham Duc remembered the name because, “he was the first pilot our antiaircraft unit shot down in the war and we captured him.” He went on to say, “he was the only man that we captured.”
Both Evelyn and Wilmer are buried at Arlington National Cemetery in Washington D.C. At any given time, family members are allowed to view, online, their loved one’s gravesite.
“One day my brother went online to view pictures on my parents’ page, and there was a picture of a man in front of my mom and dad’s website sitting with an American/Vietnamese dictionary in his lap,” said Van. “Then, when you click the next picture, he is at the Vietnam Wall at my dad’s panel.”
Du Pham Duc had made his way to Arlington Cemetery to visit the Grubbs’ gravesite. While he was there, multiple pictures were taken, and one was put on the Cemetery website.
Over a year went by and no one knew who he was. One day, out of the blue, Carol Jose called Van and said she thought she knew who the man was that visited their mom and dad’s gravesite. She informed Van that someone is coming from Washington D.C. with additional information and would like to meet with him.
Kevyn Settle, a documentary producer, thought Du Pham Duc visiting the Grubbs’ gravesite, and the reason for it, would make for an interesting story. Ironically, Kevyn’s coproducer’s fiancé’s father happened to be My Pham Duc.
After investigating the authenticity of this connection, it was determined to be true, in that the man visiting the gravesite was in fact a part of the antiaircraft unit that shot down Lt. Col. Wilmer Grubb.
The Grubbs were subsequently invited to Vietnam to hear their stories. Van stated, “It was not an easy decision to make to go back to a place where your father was the only one that you really knew that went there, and he did not come home alive.”
After making the decision to go, Van, his brothers, Roland, Roy, and Jeff, along with Roland’s wife, Orasa, and Jeff’s son, Eli, went to Vietnam for three weeks.
Van was asked what his emotions were when he first came face-to-face with the person that shot down his dad’s plane. His answer, “gratitude!” He went on to say, “He was going to give us information after almost 50 years.”
When asked if there was any anger, his reply was, you had to give up the anger. My mom said, anger will destroy you from the inside.
This story is all about Patriotism – that of Lt. Col. Wilmer Newell Grubb, Heroism – that of Evelyn Grubb, and Forgiveness – the entire Grubb family.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Steve Wilson was born in DeRidder, Louisiana and grew up in both New Orleans and Macon, Georgia. He moved to Brevard County in 1984 and retired from local government as the Community Advocate/Assistant to the City Manager with the City of Rockledge in 2018.
Among the awards and accolades Steve has received over the years are 15 + year Rockledge Little League volunteer, Brevard Public School Jefferson Award Recipient, Rockledge High School Raider Booster Award 2001, 2006, City of Rockledge Employee of the Year 2006, Rockledge Kiwanian of the Year 2006-2007, City of Rockledge Quality Public Service Award 2008, 2012, 2017, Rockledge Kiwanis Citizen of the Year 2012-2013, Space Coast Sports Hall of Fame – Sportscasting 2015, Rockledge High School Leadership and Service Award 2016, Central Florida Humanitarian Award 2017, Space Coast Inspiration Award – 2018 and Space Coast Sports Hall of Fame – Lifetime Achievement – 2020.
Wilson is especially proud of is chairing two fundraisers in support of pediatric cancer research through the St. Baldrick’s Foundation in honor of Merritt Island resident Julie Spurlock that raised over $25,000.00.
He has been a partner, along with Orville Susong, for the past 24 years with the Friday Night Locker Room, a broadcasting team that covers and reports on a wide variety of local events that are of significance to the residents of the Space Coast and beyond. Their mission is to promote youth sports, support first responders and law enforcement personnel, and showcase community and charitable events that are produced by our nonprofit partners in central Florida.
The Friday Night Locker Room has awarded hundreds of sports achievement plaques to Brevard County student-athletes over the years. They have also awarded more than $18,000 in academic scholarships to Brevard County high school seniors.