Litchfield Museum and Route 66 Welcome Center acquired a substantial piece of history on Saturday, Nov. 9.
Vietnam Veteran Ron Schneider IUWG-1VN (Inshore Undersea Warfare Group-1) presented the local museum with a brick from Hao Lo Prison, also known as The Hanoi Hilton, in Vietnam.
Schneider, a longtime resident of Litchfield, is Chaplin of VFW #3912.
He acquired the brick from a fellow Vietnam War veteran, who had been a prisoner of war (POW) in the infamous Vietnamese prison.
The POW sent the brick to Schneider following the demolishment of Hao Lo Prison in the mid-1990s.
The brick interchanged hands several times before finding its permanent home in the military section at Litchfield Museum and Route 66 Welcome Center on Saturday morning.
Schneider had originally auctioned off the tumultuous piece of history at a benefit for a close personal friend and fellow veteran. After 17 years, the buyer of the brick contacted Schneider. He was downsizing and wanted to return the brick to someone who fully understood the momentous weight of the history it represented. Schneider, who had already curated items for the local museum, decided to donate the brick to the community of Litchfield.
Litchfield Mayor Steve Dougherty, joined museum staff and community members at the dedication ceremony, which purposefully coincided with Veterans Day weekend. Commanders from each of the area's military organizations were in attendance to both mark the donation and honor the POWs that had been imprisoned at Hao Lo and the other Vietnamese prisons.
Hao Lo Prison was used by the Vietnamese People's Army (VPA) as a POW camp during the Vietnam War. Nicknamed The Hanoi Hilton by American POWs, the prison was located in Hanoi - the capital city, situated in Northern Vietnam. American POWs sarcastically referred to Hao Lo as the Hanoi Hilton, in reference to the well known Hilton Hotel chain. The nickname was apt as the name Hanoi commonly translates as "fiery furnace" or even "Hell's hole.
A living hell in many ways, POWs endured severe torture methods, such as rope bindings, irons, beatings, and prolonged solitary confinement among inhumane conditions and other extreme physical, mental and emotional abuses. From the beginning, the North Vietnamese Army used Hao Lo Prison to house, torture and interrogate captured servicemen. While the United States and its allies never formally charged North Vietnam with war crimes, eyewitness accounts from American servicemen present a horrific account of their captivity.
These accounts were recorded in The Passing of the Night: My Seven Years as a Prisoner of the North Vietnamese by Robinson Risner and later in Senator John McCain's book the Faith of My Fathers. The Arizona senator spent five and half years imprisoned in the Hanoi Hilton.
While Hao Lo Prison no longer stands, a piece of the nightmarish prison will indefinitely reside at the Litchfield Museum - preserving the history of the Americans captured during the Vietnam War.
"This brick represents all of us," said Schneider, to the room filled with veterans from all branches of the military. "It is exhibited in memory of the brothers and sisters we lost - POW and MIA - and as a steadfast reminder of the history we share."